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.

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.


Genova

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.




Deadgirl

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.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

TIFF 08 Recap Part 1

Another year at TIFF is in the books, and now time to get down to the recap. I am still going through film festival detox so I will be posting my thoughts in segments. Plus the only thing more time consuming than watching 32 films, is writing about those 32 films.


Edison & Leo

The first full-length stop motion animated film in Canadian history, is definitely a visual delight. Yet do not go into this film expecting entertainment on the same level, as say, “Wallace and Gromit”. “Edison & Leo” is a convoluted tale about a moral corrupt inventor named Edison and his son Leo. After years of inventing various items, and stealing numerous cultural artifacts, Edison’s past starts to catch up with him. When the moment comes for Edison to choose between saving his wife’s soul, and stealing a magical book from a tribe of gypsy women. Edison sets off a series of events that ultimately results in Leo getting electrified. Cursed with the power of electricity running through his veins, Leo grows up in a solitary life. When the gypsy women plot their revenge, Leo must not only question his purpose in life, but also all the story his father’s has told him about the nature of the gypsies.

While a visual treat for the eyes, “Edison and Leo” ultimately misses the mark because of the script. The story has problems on settling on what type of film it wants to be. Is it a dark comedy? Or is it a whimsical fantasy? How about a romantic film with elements of horror? At times it seems that “Edison and Leo” are all these things. While I often like stories that defy genres, the lack of focus really hurts this film. This is most evident in the film’s pacing. While it is fun to follow the hilariously corrupt Edison through the first half of the film, the second half is bogged down with too many threads that you do not care about (i.e. Leo’s love story, Leo’s conniving brothers, the gypsy women, etc.) There is also a level of gore in the film that really seems out of place. It is really tough to focus on what characters are saying when you have someone in the background repeatedly poking a headless body just to see the blood squirt out. While a huge step for the animation industry in Canada, “Edison and Leo” ultimately missed the mark.


Achilles and the Tortoise

Takeshi Kitano’s (Zatoichi) latest film is a meditation on the nature of art and those who create it. The film focuses on Machisu who, from a young age, longs to be a professional artist. Despite all the hardships that befall on Machisu, and those around him, he never loses sight of his goal. Eventually he encounters a woman who not only sees his potential, but fully assists in his creative process as well. Although the premise may seem like your typical rags to riches tale, this film is the stark opposite of that. “Achilles and the Tortoise” is as much about perpetual failure as it is about art.

The film’s bleak view on the merits of art is both engaging and very depressing. Takeshi pours so much sadness onto Machisu that the audience is practically begging for a Hollywood-style happy ending. Yet I guess that is point of the film, the romanticized ideology of “the big break” rarely comes for most artists. What is also startling is the fact that Kitano created all the paintings featured in the film. An avid painter, Takeshi Kitano’s bleak out look on his passion is truly thought provoking. In one great scene a chef asks Machisu “what would a poor person in Africa prefer? A ball of rice? Or a painting?” Kitano also takes aim at how people decide what is art. Showing that both the artists and the sellers are crooked. While “Achilles and the Tortoise” was easily one of the most depressing films I have watched in a while, I would still watch it again in a heartbeat.




RocknRolla

Herald as return to the world he knows best (it seems everyone has happily agreed that “Revolver” never happened), “RocknRolla” is Guy Ritchie’s latest London gangster opus. Featuring an all-star cast, the film is about a London crime boss (Tom Wilkinson) who tries to acquire some local real estate via an illegal deal with his Russian counterpart. When two local hoods (Gerard Butler and Idris Elba), with the assistance of a bored accountant (Thandie Newton), steal money from the Russian; they inadvertently set off a series of events that will have everyone, from a faded rock stars to crazed hitmen, double crossing each other.

While a fun movie “RocknRolla” is hardly anything new. Even by Guy Ritchie standards it pales in comparison to “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch”. All the typical Guy Ritchie elements are here: a convoluted plot, dark humour, violent shootouts, quick edits, chase scenes, monologues that give mundane things (such as cigarettes) philosophical importance, etc. The majority of the performances are over-the-top, especially Wilkinson, but you pretty much get the sense that the actors having a ball. Which leads me to a major complaint with the film, the cast is too big. A lot of the characters in the film serve no real purpose. As music producers, Jeremy Piven and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, basically walk around looking scared for most of their scenes. Their characters could have been cut completely. I also think it is a shame to have Piven was not given a better role. If anyone can let loose on screen it is Jeremy Piven, the fact that he is underused here is downright criminal. While “RocknRolla” is a mindlessly enjoyable movie, it by no means showcases Ritchie’s true potential as a filmmaker.




JCVD

Who knew Jean-Claude Van Damme still had a good movie left in him? Easily one of the biggest surprises at TIFF this year, “JCVD” is the film that may actually reinvent Van Damme as a comedic actor…or at least as a half decent actor. In the film, Van Damme plays…well Van Damme…an action star whose light no longer shines so bright. Not only is he strapped for cash, but he is also losing roles in straight to DVD films to Steven Segal of all people. To make matters worst, Jean-Claude is in the middle of a custody battle with one of his ex-wives for the rights to see his daughter. Just when you think life cannot get any worse for Van Damme, one day he finds himself in the middle of a hostage-taking situation at the local post office. As the police and the media surround the post office, Van Damme is mistakenly accused of the crime. Stuck between the criminals inside the post office and the police outside, Jean-Claude is forced to use what he learned from his previous films roles to defuse the situation.

Although the film is essentially an action-comedy, the film is not the usual “beat ‘em up” fare you expect from a Van Damme film. With the exception of one fantastic opening sequences, the martial arts are kept to a minimum. “JCVD” is more concerned with the comical story than it is with the violence. The main reason this film works is because of Van Damme’s performance. He commits fully to the role; openly taking comedic jabs at both himself and his body of work. He even opens up about the darker aspects of his life (i.e. drug abuse, his many wives, etc.) in one brilliantly improvised monologue. This film could have easily been a one-note gimmick; instead Jean-Claude, and director Mabrouk El Mechri, have crafted and entertaining film that is guaranteed to make you look at Jean-Claude Van Damme in a whole new light.




More Than A Game

First runner-up to “Slumdog Millionaire” for the “Peoples Choice Award”, TIFF’s highest award, “More Than A Game” is an uplifting tale about friendship, hardship, and determination. The documentary looks at how five friends growing up in Akron, Ohio defied all expectation and changed the way America looked at high school basketball. Through the help of Coach Dru, a businessman who knew little about the sport going in, the five young athletes are forced to overcome many obstacles on and off the court. Not only did four of the five men begin playing together in grade school; but one of them, a kid named LeBron James, would become the first high school student to be hand picked by Sports Illustrated as the next big thing. As the wins start to pile up and the media scrutiny become more rampant, egos arise, relationships become strained, and the adversities mount.

While LeBron James is the marquee name that will most likely bring people to the theatre; by the end the audience will be cheering Coach Dru and the other members of the aptly dubbed “Fab Five” (Little Dru, Sian, Willie, and Romeo) equally if not more than LeBron. Director Kristopher Belman skillfully gives enough weight to each person so that you really get a good sense of the boys bonds to each other and their coach. Belman could have easily just made film that was nothing more than a basketball highlight reel; instead Belman opts to have the actual basketball stuff a secondary aspect. The real story is how boys worked hard to achieve what they wanted. We see the damage that the sport brought on Coach Dru and his son Little Dru. The choices made by each player that they will drastically effect their lives. Uplifting without being sentimental, “More Than A Game” is definitely a crowd pleaser.


Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love

Chai Vasarhelyi’s documentary looks at the controversy that arose when prominent African singer Youssou Ndour released a album, entitled “Egypt.” The album was Youssou’s love letter to his Muslim faith. Hoping to provide a new level of songs for his people to enjoy, Youssou is shocked when many in his home country of Senegal denounce the album. Not only do they reject his album but they also oppose to him touring during the sacred month of Ramadan. As album sales plummet at home, Youssou finds that the rest of the world is embracing his album with open arms. It is this contrast that forces Youssou to look at who has the authority to deem what religious material is appropriate.

Overall I was very disappointed with the film. While it was nice to hear Youssou’s music and see the various places he played (i.e. Ireland, Rome, etc.), I felt the film was missing one key thing…tension. Yes it is a shame that Senegal initially rejected the album, yet I never got the sense that Youssou’s career was ever in danger. He was still deemed a national treasure; they just rejected this one album. Unlike other artists who have spoken their mind, say “The Dixie Chicks” for example, there was never a moment where I thought his life was in danger, or that he would never record another album again. Youssou does raise some interesting questions about the nature of religious worship, but the film never goes deeper than the surface. This is a film mostly geared at highlighting Youssou’s music after all. Another thing I did not like was how the people of Senegal are portrayed in Vasarhelyi’s film. If you were to go by the films editing, Senegal only decided to accept Youssou’s album after he wins a Grammy award. This seems rather odd to me, one would think that America would be the last place to govern what is acceptable in the Muslim world. As a concert film “Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love” is adequate, just do not go in expecting anything deeper.

Monday, September 01, 2008

My T.I.F.F Schedule

Despite being in the last box of the "ticket lottery system", I still managed to get a good chunk of the films I wanted to see (e.g. Ashes of Time Redux, Youssou Ndour, etc.)


Thursday September 4, 2008

7:45 pm Edison & Leo

Friday September 5, 2008

9:00 am Achilles and the Tortoise
11:45 am RocknRolla
3:15 pm JCVD

Saturday September 6, 2008

12:15 pm More Than A Game
3: 00 pm Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love
6: 00 pm Lost Song

Sunday September 7, 2008

9:30 am Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist
1:30 pm Treeless Mountain
8:30 pm Genova

Monday September 8, 2008

9:00 am The Other Man
12:00 pm New York I Love You
3:00 pm Ashes of Time Redux
5: 00 pm Deadgirl

Tuesday September 9, 2008

9:00 am Flash of Genius
12:00 pm The Wrestler
2:30 pm Last Stop 174
4:30 pm Il Divo
8:30 pm A Film With Me In It

Wednesday September 10, 2008

9:00 am The Hurt Locker
12:00 pm A Year Ago In Winter
3:15 pm Slumdog Millionaire
5:00 pm Killing Kasztner

Thursday September 11, 2008

9:00 am Fifty Dead Men Walking
12:00 pm The Brothers Bloom
3:15 pm Gigantic
6:45 pm Cloud 9

Friday September 12, 2008

12:45 pm What Doesn’t Kill You
3:00 pm Witch Hunt
5:00 pm Pontypool

Saturday September 13, 2008

9:00 am Yes Madam, Sir
12:15 pm The Sky Crawlers