September 13, 2009

Toronto Saturday

Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire - Lee Daniels - USA

When you see precious, it's kinda hard to believe that Lee Daniels is basically known for that movie where Helen Mirren had an affair with Cuba Gooding, Jr. Okay, most of you probably don't remember that movie and Lee Daniels is probably the better for it. So, let's pretend he's starting out with Precious. Were it the case, it would be an incredible start, because it is an incredible movie. It is imperfect - Daniels makes some stylistic choices that take me out of the movie - but man can he handle actors. 17-year-old newcomer Gabby Sibide is heartbreaking and so right for the difficult part that it's hard to imagine Sapphire didn't have her in mind while writing the novel. Her face carries emotions in a way many polished actresses only wish they could. The few moments in the film where she experiences joy would brighten the entire theater (and we were in one of Toronto's dingier theaters for this Press & Industry screening). Mo'Nique, who won Best Actress at Sundance for her work here, is definitely on her way to an Oscar nomination. There is no doubt at all. None. Book it. She is utterly phenomenal as Precious's abusive mother. Her Oscar clip (God, I hope they bring those back) is a scene in the social worker's office. Despite all the evil that she has committed on screen against her daughter, she leaves nary a dry eye in the house. The best compliment to Mr. Daniels' ability to work with actors - folks, you won't believe it: even Mariah Carey is good! And that is probably the only time you'll ever see those words come from my keypad. If you've read the descriptions of Precious, you've probably heard about its bleakness. At the beginning of the film, we find out that Precious, at the age of 16, is pregnant with her second child as a result of her father's rape. This is hardly the setting for comedy. What is most amazing is that in this bleak and abusive landscape, Daniels leaves a glimmer of hope and moments of honest-to-God joy. This is a film that should be required viewing.

The Ape - Jesper Ganslandt - Sweden

Were it possible, I managed to follow Precious with a movie in a circumstance even more bleak (man, I can pick 'em). In Jesper Ganslandt (Falkenberg Farewell) a man awakens on his bathroom floor, his face and clothes streaked with blood. In a panic, he promptly washes the blood away and strips off his bloodied clothes. He bears no wounds. He then pops the Blue Tooth in his ear and bicycles to the auto repair shop, picks up his car and heads off to his job as a driving instructor. Obviously, the man has done something terrible - but what? The remaining 80 minutes or so is simply following the man (Olle Sarri - he was in Lukas Moodyson's brilliant 2000 film Together and he is very good here) as the clues slowly begin to reveal themselves as to what happened and as he descends further into a personal hell. Audience responses ranged from walking out in disgust to other claiming it to be sheer brilliance. I land somewhere between. I wasn't disgusted by it at all; but I wasn't completely enamored with it. The premise is interesting and it does make for a tense ride. However, there are a couple of plot holes that result from the structural set up and it can get a bit repetitive for my tastes. It does a good job of maintaining one's interest, though. I'd give it a mild recommendation.

The Trotsky - Jacob Tierney - Canada

Thank God for Canadian teenagers who think they are the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky. After the darkness of most everything I'd seen up to that point, it was a nice break to sit back and enjoy a goof-ball comedy. Everyone knows that high school is incredibly political; not everyone has used it as a jumping off point for an examination of a budding communist who, based on his predecessor's life, attempts to turn the Student Union into a...well, a Student UNION. Starring Jay Baruchel (he was the lead actor in Judd Apatow's briefly lived Fox series "Undeclared"), The Trotsky is an enjoyable goof on high school, communist ideology (no it doesn't completely poke fun at it, but it does poke fun at the naivete with which many young people enter into it), parental relations - and Canada. The only problem the film may have is that it is SOOOOOO Canadian that I don't know if it can have a life outside Canada. Jokes that had the locals in stitches (they make fun of a host of eTalk; Ontario gets an elbow to the rib; as do French Canadians) went right past my head. Okay, the French Canadian jokes didn't. I've been coming to Toronto long enough to know a few French Canadian jokes. Anyway, while nowhere near a masterpiece, The Trotsky is at least a pleasant diversion, if a little overly simplistic.

Face (Visage) - Tsai Ming-liang - Taiwan/France

Umm...You know that scene in Poltergeist, when the oldest daughter gets home from a date or something and the house is really going ape-shit and she screams in desperation and fear: "WHAT'S HAPPENING?" At about the 40 minute mark of Tsia Ming-liang's Face (Visage), that's about as close as I can possibly get to describing how I felt. And then, there were two hours left. I will try to break down the goings-on as best as I can understand them. In Face, a Taiwanese movie director (Lee Kang-sheng - in basically every Tsai movie) is directing a French film in Paris based on the story of Salome. In his real life, his mother, back in Taiwan has passed away and he must return to mourn her and tie up loose ends - like the fact that her body refuses to move on to the next world. Fanny Ardant is his French producer on the Salome film, and she travels to Taiwan with him to make sure he gets back to the complete his project. There's some singing, some dancing, and some utterly stunning visuals (it's never less than interesting to look at, even in the multiple moments when there's next to nothing on screen), multiple references to Francois Truffaut, Orson Welles, and Fellini, and Matthieu Almeric - possibly my favorite French actor - arrives for a quick bit of fellatio with Lee (literally, that's the only thing he does in the entire film).

It's quite impossible to say I hated the film. I can certainly say I didn't love it. But Tsai seems to have started spiraling out there. While always strange and narratively challenging, his previous works (What Time is it There?, Goodbye Dragon Inn, The River, The Hole) were centered and usually came with wonderfully satisfying conclusions. More recently with Face and his previous work The Wayward Clouds, he seems to have lost that center, leaving us no reference point for the absurdity. Tsai has a bit of a cult following and I think they will enjoy trying to fit the pieces of this mind-bending puzzle together, others will find it frustrating to no end. I've basically decided to sit back and let the visuals please the eye and move on. I may revisit it to see if there's anything I missed - this is probably NOT the best choice for the capper after four movies consecutively.

In other news: ran into NaFF juror Elvis Mitchell, we'll be meeting later this week. Ran into Variety reporter Joe Leydon who has covered NaFF and helped out at the fest and festival volunteer extraordinaire Zan Bruckner on there way to Robert Duvall's World Premiere of his new film Get Low. And when we got back to the hotel after a late dinner, we found our room completely flooded and most of our toiletries ruined! Hoo-ray!

So, tomorrow will be a light day as we recover, move to a new room, take meetings, and then later in the afternoon, catch a couple of movies.

For those who haven't already heard, from Venice:

Golden Lion to: Lebanon directed by Samuel Moaz (I'll be seeing that Wednesday morning).

Best Actor to Colin Firth for Tom Ford's A Single Man, the story of a gay college professor trying to put his life back together after the death of his partner.

Best Actress went to Ksenia Rappoport for The Double Hour.

For more on the Venice Awards...

BUZZ: Early word from many is that their favorite movie so far is the Jason Reitman comedy Up in the Air. After good reviews at is premiere in Telluride, Reitman looks to be on his way to Awards-season glory and it seems likely that his stars - George Clooney and Vera Farmiga - are as well. I may get to check it out Wednesday, so I'll let you know what I think.

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