Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, John Hillcoat’s The Road is bleak look at a world on the brink. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, a father (Viggo Mortensen) and son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) struggle to survive by any means necessary. As duo travel aimlessly day to day, they encounter various individuals (Robert Duvall, Michael K. Williams, etc) that will ultimately blur the lines between good and evil even further.
As weird as it may sound, I always find stories about the decay of society fascinating. The Road is a very bleak film that reminded me of Fernando Meirelles’ Blindness in many ways, though The Road is not nearly as graphic and the overall execution of is far better. The interesting thing about this film is that it does not care what caused the world to get to the point that it is at. The real focus is on the theme of family; and the lengths that people will go through to protect the ones they love. There is also an underlying question of whether childhood innocence can exist in such a horrific world? There are times in the film where Smit-McPhee’s character comes off a little too naïve for my liking. Especially if you take into account all that he has experienced up to this point. Having not read the source material I cannot say whether the character was orignianlly written this way or if it was more a result of Hillcoat’s direction. The real strength of the film is found in the casting. Viggo Mortensen is very good in the lead role; he has the right mixture of vulnerability and jadedness needed for the role. I also really liked the supporting performances of Duvall and Williams. Though I wish Molly Parker and Guy Pearce were given more to do. I understand their character’s roles are minor but, with actors of their talent, it would have been great to see them play some of the darker roles in the film. While it did not blow me away like other post-apocalyptic films have, say Children of Men for example, The Road did hold my interest the throughout.
Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee introduced the film both decked out in gear supporting my beloved Montreal Canadiens, which obviously did not sit well with the many Toronto Maple Leaf fans in the audience. Viggo and Kodi had a few funny back and forth moments with audience as a result.
The arrival of Kate (Demi Moore) and Mike Jones (David Duchovny), along with their kids Jenn (Amber Heard) and Micks (Ben Hollingsworth), in an upscale suburban neighborhood causes quite a stir amongst the residents. Living in a lavishe house, with all the cutting edge clothing and gadgets you can imagine, the Joneses quickly become the toast of the town. Everyone, especially neighbors Larry (Gary Cole) and Summer (Glenne Headley), becomes obsessed with emulating Joneses lifestyle. Despite their seemingly perfect exterior, the Joneses may not be the ideal family they appear to be.
The Joneses is one of those films that work best if you go in not knowing too much. Although writer/director Derrick Borte creates a brilliant premise, he unfortunately fumbles with the overall delivery. The film wants to be both a satire on consumerism and a romantic comedy, the latter of which is what ultimately hurts the film. Since Borte must continually keep the romantic subtext flowing, The Joneses never reaches the biting satirical level that it really should. This is a shame since both Cole and Headley steal every scene they are in. The odd thing about The Joneses is that the film itself plays like one long product placement commercial. Maybe this is Borte’s way of emphasizing how easily it is for us to be swayed by marketing. Still, it is tough to take Duchovny’s speech, on our constant obsession with things, seriously when every other moment you are being shown the latest Audi vehicles. If Borte had gone for a more cutting satire The Joneses could have easily been one of the better films of the year. As it stands, you will leave The Joneses slightly disappointed and with a desire to buy something.
The Warrior and the Wolf (Lang Zai Jilang)
Adapted from of a short story by Japanese writer Yashushi Inoue The Warrior and The Wolf takes place during the Era of the Warring States (i.e. before the unification of China). When General Zhange Anliang (Tou Chung-hua) is wounded in battle Lu (Joe Odagiri), a soldier who is opposed to murder, is forced to take over command. As the harsh winter blocks the path home, Lu and his men are forced to take refuge in a mysterious village. While in the village Lu meets, and eventually falls for, a beautiful woman (Maggie Q) who has secrets of her own. Unbeknownst to Lu, his relationship with this woman will change his life forever.
Although I am sure that the original source material is a captivating story, as a film, The Warrior and the Wolf is a mess. The pacing is extremely slow and, surprisingly, nothing is really fleshed out. The film constantly feels like chunks of essential points (e.g. history, timelines, etc.) are missing. Events happen in this film that make no sense whatsoever, this is especially noticeable when looking at the arc between Odagiri and Q. Lu is a passive man, yet turns into an uncontrollable animal at the sight of a half naked Maggie Q. While you can argue that he has not seen a woman in years, due to the war, you never really get a sense at how long he has actually been gone. Also, similar to Kelin, there is the whole “Taming of the Shrew” through rape angle that occurs. Yet unlike Kelin, The Warrior and the Wolf never really shows those moments where you actually believe Q’s character would fall in love with Lu. The woman just professes her love for him one day and then brings up the whole “curse” element to the tale. While I will not provide spoilers, I will merely say that such a central part of the story should not come out of left field over an hour into the film. I will not even bother to mention the ridiculous third act of the film that pretty much throws everything from the first two acts out the window.
The Loved Ones
Winner of the first ever Midnight Madness award, for favourite Midnight Madness feature, The Loved Ones is an entertaining horror flick that achieves so much by doing so little. Six months after being involved in an accident that killed his father, Brent Mitchell (Xavier Sameul) is still riddled with guilt. Wearing a razorblade at the end of chain, Brent routinely cuts himself in an attempt to deal with the pain. After an argument with his mother, and on the eve of the school prom, Brent decides to go for walk to clear his head. Unfortunately for Brent, he is unknowingly about to have a night that he will never forget.
I am hesitant to divulge too much about the plot has you really should go in knowing as little as possible. While many will cite Carrie as a comparison, I think The Loved Ones is more along the lines of films such as Misery. Director Sean Byrne script manages to provide fully realized characters in a rather short pace of time. He also finds a way to connect seemingly meaningless events (i.e. the best friend story arc) to the bigger picture. Unlike recent horror films, especially the Saw franchise and the “strangers in my house” revivals, The Loved Ones finds its chills in the simplest of places. In an age where death and torture in movies are done on such an elaborate scale, Byrne uses everyday devices (e.g. forks, kettles, hammers, etc.) to maximum effect. A lot of credit must also go to Robin McLeavy and John Brumpton who, as Lola and Eric respectively, create two of the most memorable horror characters in recent years. Their performances, especially Brumpton’s, are so subtle at times that you cannot help but be both disturbed and entertained at the same time.
Sean Byrne held a Q &A after the screening
Suzanne (Kristen Scott Thomas) has decided after years of being a devoted stay-at-home wife to Samuel (Yvan Attal), and mother to their children, that she wants to go back to work as a physiotherapist. Samuel agrees to build Suzanne her own consulting room in the backyard. Before long Suzanne strikes up a friendship with Ivan (Sergi Lopez), a contractor who is working on the room, and unexpected feelings develop.
Partir follows a string of other recent films (e.g. Cloud 9, and The Other Man to a certain extent) that look at the themes of women abandoning their families in the pursuit of passion. What I always find interesting about these films is how different events play out when the woman is the one who commits adultery. In all of these films the woman leaves to be with her lover and expects the family to accept her decision no questions asked. Unlike some of the other films I mentioned, Director Catherin Corsini’s film tries to take the easy way out by turning the husband into the villain. This helps her show that Suzanne ultimately made the right decision. The problem with this is that Samuel only becomes vindictive after Suzanne tells him that she has been cheating on him. Frankly I do not think any husband, or wife for that matter, is going to be fine with their spouse coming home to cook dinner before running out to spend the night with their new lover. Call me old fashioned but I just do not see it happening. Now I do not condone Samuel’s actions towards the end of the film, as they are beyond redeemable. Still, other moments such as Samuel cutting Suzanne off from his bank account is not as vile as Corsini tries to make us believe. Despite some issues I had with a few of the plot devices, Kristen Scott Thomas is the reason why this film stays a float. She gives another great performance that almost comes close to rivaling her work in I’ve Loved You So Long. Partir has its flaws but it will definitely stir up debate afterwards.
Director Catherin Corsini held a revealing Q &A where she admitted that she and Thomas had many battles on the set. Although they are ultimately had similar visions for the story, the disagreed on some of the choices being made (i.e. Thomas wanted her character to have more interaction with the children, etc.)
Still to come: The Ape, Youth in Revolt, Bitch Slap, Life During Wartime, Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, If I Knew What You Said, Ajami, etc.