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Harry Potter, R.I.P.
Daniel Radcliffe says that he's done with Harry Potter. Consider this film as adding boldface, underlining, and an exclamation mark to this claim.
If I had the option of watching any new movie with a Colorado audience, it would be this one. With a little help, you can see it as adhering to this storyline:
"Boy wizard decides to give the muggle life a try in the Pacific Northwest, only to learn that it isn't so easy leaving the supernatural behind."
I saw it at last year's TIFF, with Radcliffe, director Alaxandre Aja, co-star Juno Temple and writer Joe Hill present, and it went over really well with a less-than-optimal audience. I lamented to program director Collin Geddes after the show that it should have been presented as part of his beloved "Midnight Madness" program it definitely would have been a slam dunk success in this category (I saw the winning entry and this movie was WAY better and 100% appropriate) rather than just a festival side note.
How to describe it? Think of it as a very engaging R-rated Halloween-season movie that successfully meshes several genres, murder-mystery being the leitmotif. (Writer Hill explained that he doesn't like to limit one of his works to a single genre.) It has a great comic hook in that the horns bring out the worst in people -- which means a lot of great opportunities for a talented supporting cast. My only cavil was a minor one with the pacing -- and this could very well have been corrected in the current version, considering the time they've had.
How does Daniel give the R.I.P. to Potter? I'll cut right to the chase: He smokes, he drinks, he swears, he f___s. Some of his adult scenes practically BEG for a Colorado viewing. Just imagine you're seeing Harry Potter contemplating a BJ offer from Heather Graham ("Gee, I dunno ... what do YOU think, Ron?").
I hope that they've been holding this back for a Halloween release. That would mean an opportunity to screen it again at TIFF, this time in the right program which could give it a publicity boost that it definitely deserves.
To those in the know: This one rates a Snob-A, in that it passes the litmus test: I have to see it again.
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
A major Scorcese winner!
Even if I'd seen this movie without credits and completely unaware of what I was about to see, I would have known right away that it was directed by Martin Scorcese. The first person narration the content of the narration, with many "lists" of characters, events, details, etc. reeled off the Thelma Shoemaker editing Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead and, of course, the tone of gleeful naughtiness throughout. (MAN, what parties!)
But did familiarity breed contempt? Not in the slightest! For me, this was "Goodfellas meets Boiler Room meets Wall Street"! When a three-hour movie feels like a two-hour movie, there's no denying that you were totally into it. I'd rate this as easily the best of the five Scorcese-DiCaprio collaborations (not that I didn't like some of the others).
DiCaprio has plenty of support from a thick, diverse cast. Jonah Hill's part could have been played by any number of actors, but he does a perfectly acceptable job while providing marked visual contrast with the lead just like he did in MONEYBALL. The real find is Margot Robbie as the love interest yowsuh! She almost won my annual "best non-costume" award (Rosario Dawson in TRANCE was the 2013 winner), and I certainly hope that she'll keep trying!
Is it for you? I very much recommend that you use GOODFELLAS as a yardstick. I can't imagine much of a disparity in anybody's scores for the two movies.
Ill Manors (2012)
Awesome low-budget British flick gets my "best of TIFF" vote
I've been coming to the TIFF for fifteen straight years, and all I can say is "wow!" If you've seen the trailers at IMDb and YouTube and been impressed, rest assured that the movie more than delivers on what they promise.
The movie was made on a shoestring, and is quite possibly the greatest shoestring movie ever I sure can't think of any other low budget film that can touch this. If I can luck out on a rush ticket Saturday, it will be the first time I've ever seen a movie TWICE at the festival, (I have a feeling that this film will take time to reach the American market perhaps being toned down in the process -- and I've GOT to see it again.)
This is certainly a helluva directing debut for musician Ben Drew (a.k.a. Plan B) who also wrote the pulsating soundtrack. I've never seen music more effectively tied to visuals than here, whether they're real time, time lapse, or stop action. Especially effective are transitional passages staged as rap music videos.
There's plenty of great acting too, thanks to a large talented ensemble cast of relative unknowns. Especially impressive Is Riz Ahmed as the character who bridges several interconnected stories about life on the mean streets of East London over a several day period. And in a knockout debut, young Ryan De La Cruz is incredible as a naïve 13-year-old out to buy some weed who gets transformed into a killer in a very believable way.
The realism is astounding. I've seen movies like ARGO and END OF WATCH at the fest, and while they were certainly well-made, they seem overly stagey in comparison (although, to be fair, just about ALL movies do). I voted this for best picture on my way out I know that nothing I'm going to be seeing from this point on is going to top this.
Not for the genteel, faint-of-heart, or British accent-averse, but if you're none of the above, prepare yourself for a real treat. Never a dull moment! Feel free to base your expectations on the available trailers and videos they don't deceive in the slightest.
The Artist (2011)
Beware of the overhype!
If you can get your Weinstein-manipulated expectations WAY down from "Oscar" to "cute gimmick," then this cinematic truffle could very well satisfy especially if you've ever seen and enjoyed a theatrical screening of a silent movie. There's a faithfulness to the spirit and techniques of the silent era that's undeniably impressive and will delight those few audience members (myself being one) who have enough familiarity with silent cinema to appreciate it.
But is it a movie that you should be running out to see because omnipresent web advertising says that it's an Oscar lock? Negative. If you DON'T have the required familiarity with the silent era, the charms and nostalgia evoked by the film will be completely lost on you, and you'll be far more dependent on the thin and unoriginal storyline for entertainment. (Note: the story borrows shamelessly from both SINGING IN THE RAIN and A STAR IS BORN and is fully consistent with the era's cornball aesthetic.) And even if you ARE familiar with silent cinema, "Oscar worthy" is going to seem like a stretch. Either way, if you really want to enjoy this movie, lowering your expectations from their current hype-elevated levels is imperative. (Anybody notice how remarkably similar Weinstein's overhype campaign for this film is to the one he successfully ran for Roberto Benigni's LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL years ago? Anybody watched that movie since?)
I first saw this film at the Toronto Film Festival with a full house at the spacious Elgin Theater, and it received a favorable albeit muted response from the audience. (By comparison, I saw AMELIE at the same theater ten years prior, and it received a ten-minute standing ovation at the end.) If I'd known at the time that I'd just seen the year's BEST movie, I would have been depressed over what this portended for the year-end releases.
You simply can't help being aware of the limitations of silent movies -- and thankful for the quantum improvement that the introduction of sound made -- no matter how deft the filmmakers are in recreating the look and feel of a bygone era. It's a movie-making era that you're glad IS bygone -- as evidenced by the inability of any of the gushing critics to cite a single color talkie favorite that they wish had been a b&w silent instead.
I say "A" for cinematic conceit and "C" for entertainment value ("B+" for silent film buffs).
Micmacs à tire-larigot (2009)
A Jeunet masterpiece -- may be his best yet
I saw 21 films at the 2009 Toronto Film Fest, and while many of them were good, this one was the best by a wide margin. If you've liked any of Jeunet's movies in the past, you can put this one down as a sure thing (provided that your favorite isn't ALIEN RESURRECTION). All of the Jeunet elements you love -- colorful, quirky characters (in this case, a whole gang of them), other-worldliness, incredible color schemes, chain reactions, etc. -- in a new concoction that doesn't feel repetitive or derivative in the slightest. As a sympathetic character with a gift for physical comedy, leading man Dany Boon can hold a candle to Chaplin and Keaton. It's simply a masterpiece ... the kind of film that will keep me coming back to this festival forever.
The best B-movie since BOUND
9/16/2008 Addendum: IMPORTANT! This review applies ONLY to the 94-minute FESTIVAL cut of this film. I see that the DVD version is only 85 minutes ... do NOT buy or rent it based on this review.
* * * *
It's movies like this one that will keep me going to the 'Midnight Madness' program of the Toronto Film Festival forever. I saw it at last year's, and have been looking forward to a repeat viewing ever since. I love it when a low-budget film can soar above the corporate mega-movies on a clever script and a cast that gives it 110%, and this is definitely one of those movies. It gave me everything I could want in such a film sex, drugs, and violence, with some jet-black humor for dessert. (Note to PG-13ers: AVOID!) It probably won't make a big splash when it's released theatrically, but I'd put money on it achieving cult status after coming out on video.
This is easily the best work that director Stuart Gordon has done since REANIMATOR I'd go so far as to say that it's his best ever. It's a suspense-horror-comedy full of situations that make you laugh and groan at the same time one that's also refreshingly NOT top-heavy with f/x. The Midnight Madness program has a firm policy that a film has to grab your attention within the first 15 minutes in order to qualify for inclusion, and this film meets that requirement with room to spare. What's more, it never drags for a minute.
The story is based on the bizarre true life tale of a woman who hit a homeless man with her car and let him slowly bleed to death while stuck in her windshield. Gordon calls this "the way the story should have turned out." The homeless man in this case is played by the reliable Steven Rea, whose sad eyes give him a head start on eliciting sympathy. He's newly homeless, and his fall to the bottom is cleverly punctuated by him repeatedly hearing a timeworn cliché uttered by a succession of unsympathetic characters. The woman is played by American BEAUTY's Mena Survari, and this is her richest role since that one. She finally gets to play a character who actually evolves over the course of a film, instead of just doing 9-5 duty in another eye candy role.
I can't overemphasize how impressive the bang for the buck that Gordon gets with this film is. He also makes an amusing Hitchcock-style cameo (one that I'll bet Hitch himself wouldn't have minded making). There was genuinely enthusiastic applause at the screening I went to when the movie ended and the cast (except for Rea) came on for a lively Q & A. If movies lately seem a bit too tame for you, this is very likely just what the doctor ordered.
Hard Candy (2005)
Best deterrent movie ever?
I saw two movies over the last weekend of April -- FLIGHT 93 and HARD CANDY and while they were both good, it's no contest as to which one provided the most visceral, edge-of-your-seat viewing experience: HARD CANDY by a mile.
I go for hardball fare as a rule, eschewing most of today's cookie-cutter PG-13 cineplex stuff. I'm a particular connoisseur of bad guys (and gals), maintaining that they're what "make" a movie that without them, good guys would be irrelevant. And this film features a star-is-born performance by newcomer Ellen Page, who, at the tender age of 17 (when the movie was filmed) has achieved the ultimate status an actress can aspire to in my book a certified "psycho bitch," every bit the equal of Glen Close's Alex Forrest and Kathy Bates' Annie Wilkes.
You know the basic plot synopsis by now: web perv creep goes shopping for jailbait online, hooks up with a bright but seemingly-naive teenager, takes her home, and gets some surprise comeuppance. But man, WHAT comeuppance! Believe me, any web predator who sees this movie is going to have some MAJOR second thoughts before doing something he shouldn't!
The film is almost entirely a two-character play, with Patrick Wilson capably handling the part of the 30-something predator opposite Page playing a 14-year-old. He's fine in his part the film wouldn't work if he wasn't but his main feat is riding an emotional roller-coaster worthy of Six Flags. Page gets all of the film's killer one-liners and is clearly the one in control. And despite all the talkiness, the film never drags, thanks to the quality of the dialogue and superb editing.
If you're the squeamish type of viewer -- or even a Bill O'Reilly-style movie wuss -- don't go NEAR this movie! Consider it to be plutonium! But if, like me, you pride yourself on being able to handle hardball fare that others can't, definitely check it out this is the kind of no-holds-barred fare that only comes along a couple of times a decade.
And checking it out will also introduce you to an amazing new talent whose career can ONLY take off as a result of this film. Page is already scheduled to appear in X-MEN 3, and after seeing her performance in HARD CANDY, I can only say that I find her "claws" a lot more fearsome than Wolverine's!
Prisoner of Paradise (2002)
Traditional, Holocaust-related doc should be strong Oscar contender
On a recent weekend getaway to Toronto, I availed myself of the opportunity to see the only public screening in North America of one of the contenders for this year's best documentary Oscar . the joint American-Canadian production, PRISONER OF PARADISE. It's not the best documentary I've seen this year, but it's solid, deals with an interesting topic, and I strongly suspect that it's going to take home this year's prize. More on this later.
Narrated by Ian Holm, the film opens with scenes of a utopian community lovingly described as being comprised completely of `like-minded individuals.' The grounds look well-kept, the people (especially the children) look happy and in good health, the arts flourish, and sporting activities are regularly enjoyed by all. But suddenly, Holm informs us that this seemingly-successful communal experiment is all . a huge lie.
The `community' is actually the Nazi concentration camp of Theresienstadt, where prominent Jews who would be missed were congregated into a sprawling and photogenic (from the outside) old fortress whose barricades to external forces proved equally efficient at keeping prisoners contained. And the footage is from a particularly notorious piece of Nazi propaganda - `The Fuhrer Gives a City to the Jews' (1944), a film produced to dispel rampant rumors about the wholesale mistreatment and extermination of Jews by the Germans. The film then shifts the focus to the director of the film -- Jewish inmate Kurt Gerron, a onetime hugely successful character actor, cabaret performer and movie director in pre-Nazi Germany.
If, by chance, you're a student of early cinema who's seen Josef Von Sternberg's classic, THE BLUE ANGEL, you've already seen a Gerron performance . he's the magician who uses the broken Emil Jannings as a stage prop late in the film. He also played the doctor in the Georg Pabst-directed Louise Brooks movie DIARY OF A LOST GIRL. On stage, he was the first performer to ever sing `Mack the Knife,' appearing in the original 1926 production of Bertolt Brecht's THE THREEPENNY OPERA. And besides being a success as a performer, he also directed some box office hits starring major German stars in the years immediately preceding the Nazi takeover. In terms of appearance, familiarity to audiences and show biz success, he was something of a German amalgam of Danny DeVito and Jackie Gleason.
The first half of the film follows Gerron's odyssey to this final directing job -- from the beginning of his success as a performer . to his showbiz heyday . to his flight to France and then to Holland following the Nazi clampdown on Jews . to his capture following the German occupation of Holland . and finally, to his arrival at Theresienstadt. (A journey that included two missed opportunities to join friends like Marlene Dietrich and Peter Lorre, who'd successfully relocated to Hollywood.) The second half of the film deals with the situation at Theresienstadt, and features many interviews with survivors.
In terms of documentary technique, the film is pretty much by the book, top-heavy with archival footage and talking heads. (There are also two re-creation scenes -- clearly labeled as such, thus averting a major documentary no-no that has cost Errol Morris dearly in the past.) But I never found my interest wandering at any time during the 97-minute running time. The survivors make it known that the prisoners resented Gerron's collaboration, but the filmmakers claim that Gerron consulted with Jewish elders before making it and received their permission to engage in an activity that would delay the word all detainees feared . `transport,' which meant delivery to a death camp.
In terms of topicality, there's an interesting side story dealing with an evil regime successfully thwarting international inspection - what emboldened the Nazis to make the propaganda film in the first place was their unqualified success in convincing a visiting Red Cross inspector that everything was fine at the camp via a carefully orchestrated tour of the facilities. This aspect, coupled with four additional factors, should make it a very strong contender:
1. Its `one of our own' main character (remember SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE beating out SAVING PRIVATE RYAN for best picture a few years back?)
2. Its Holocaust-related theme (a traditional favorite in the documentary category - INTO THE ARMS OF STRANGERS, ANNE FRANK REMEMBERED, HOTEL TERMINUS, etc.)
3. Its traditional documentary techniques . Hollywood frowns on creativity and visual panache in this category
4. The desperation among Hollywood pragmatists to prevent Michael Moore from taking the podium in front of a world audience in these times
You make think that it's impossible for a film with such little exposure to trump the record-setting success of BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, but for an MPAA voter to be eligible to vote for best documentary, he or she HAS to see ALL of the films in nomination at a theatrical screening and certify the date and place in writing. And one of the nominees (WINGED MIGRATION) is withholding the film from screenings, so only a tiny handful of voters are going to be voting in this category this year.
If any of the eligible documentaries is going to galvanize anti-Moore sentiment among the aged (and far less liberal as a whole than you might suspect) MPAA members who ARE eligible to vote, this is the one. If it wasn't for the fact that he'd actually have to admit to SEEING Michael Moore's movie in order to be eligible to vote, I'd bet the FARM that PRISONER would be Charlton Heston's choice.
Dirty Pretty Things (2002)
Toronto Film Festival favorite
Among the 18 non-documentary films that I saw at last year's Toronto Film Festival, this new Stephen Frears offering was my favorite. It isn't often that a cutting-edge foreign director who's taken a dip in Hollywood waters can ever recapture the style and flair that got him noticed by Hollywood in the first place, but it would seem that French actress Audrey Tatou is a good-luck charm for a director attempting to perform such a feat. 2001 festival winner AMELIE resurrected Jean-Pierre Jeunet from the wreckage of ALIEN RESURRECTION, and now, DIRTY PRETTY THINGS makes for a supremely satisfying return to Frears' glory year of 1987, when he came out with the `real London' back-to-back art house successes that were SAMMY AND ROSIE GET LAID and PRICK UP YOUR EARS. Frears was honored with a retrospective at the festival in 2000, and if tributes like these can provoke similar return-to-form efforts from other directors ... I can sure suggest some names!
I have only two minor cavils with the film. One is with Tatou being cast as an illegally-working Turkish immigrant in London. Only the most culturally-illiterate of viewers could ever buy her as being Turkish (she only makes a token effort at the accent). But once you get past this minor annoyance, her performance is otherwise excellent and a savvy career choice. (Nothing like a trip to all-too-real London to avoid becoming over-identified with fantasyland Paris!) The other is with the morality of the lead character, a former Nigerian doctor known only as `Okwe,' who's on the lam from a crime he was framed for after his medical ethics clashed with the wishes of state authorities. It's a great, compelling performance from unknown-in-America Chiwetel Ejiofor -- one that's sure to bring him plenty of North American roles - but in retrospect, his character is just a little TOO morally upstanding to be fully credible.
The film deals with a compelling subject - the hand-to-mouth existence eked out by the huge numbers of illegal immigrants (and illegally-working immigrants) who do all of the bottom-rung work that nobody else wants to do in a teeming western metropolis. Okwe has two jobs that leave him next to no time for any kind of personal life -- a daytime cab driver and graveyard shift hotel night porter. He tries to resist letting anyone know that he's really a doctor, but his cab boss knows, and this forces him to maintain some low-level ties to the medical community. Later, some detective work at the hotel leads to him discovering a black-market operation in human organs being run by his hotel boss.
As you can probably surmise, another painful medical moment of truth looms in the doctor's future following this discovery. I don't want to spoil anything, but if you've ever been disappointed by a film where the payoff wasn't worthy of the setup (and who hasn't?), you can rest assured that DIRTY PRETTY THINGS is definitely NOT one of these cases. The final stages of the story arc are VERY reminiscent of a certain Hollywood classic, but I'll leave it to the professional critics to do the spoiling.
The casting of the movie is superb ... the first question from the audience for Frears following the screening was `Where did you get all of those fantastic actors?' Normally, such generic audience questions elicit groans, but in THIS case, it seemed like a perfectly legitimate inquiry. Besides Ejiofor and Tatou, there's also Sergi Lopez in his first English language role (following previous French festival hits AN AFFAIR OF LOVE and WITH A FRIEND LIKE HARRY) as Okwe's hotel boss. Oozing the kind of ersatz charm that you love to hate, he's great as a scoundrel who's convinced himself that he's doing everyone involved in his racket a favor. Supporting players Sophie Oknonedo as a prostitute doing regular business at the hotel and Benedict Wong as Okwe's mortician friend provide some great comic relief to the often grim and tense proceedings. Add in more colorful extras than you'd find in a Guy Ritchie movie (with BRITISH Brits existing strictly as peripheral characters) to flesh out Steve Knight's great script and you've got a crowd-pleasing winner.
The presence of the Miramax banner put me on high `tampering alert' when watching the movie, but all I saw was vintage Frears. And he claimed during the Q&A that this is HIS movie ... `any mistakes you see on the screen are mine' were his words. The film was well-placed in the `Masters' Program at the festival and is one to definitely be looking for in commercial release. It SCREAMS for a Hispanic American remake . much more so than EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN ever did.
Bowling for Columbine (2002)
Before giving credence to anti-Moore harangues like Steve's, please read this
I saw this film at the Toronto Film Festival last month, one of the relatively few Americans in the audience. I had problems with Moore's approach and attitude in his signature piece, ROGER AND ME, and was braced for him to be taking a similarly simplistic black and white approach to the topic of guns in America.
I was pleasantly surprised and impressed. Moore a member of the NRA since he was a teenager completely eschews preaching the gun control arguments that his more hidebound fellow members are poised to reflexively jump all over. In fact, he specifically supports the notion that fewer guns AREN'T the solution to America's sky-high homicide rates. He doesn't supply pat answers, as advocates on both sides of the gun control debate so readily do. Instead drawing heavily on comparisons to Canada, where gun ownership is nearly as widespread as it is in America and consumption of American culture is voracious he focuses on the mega question of what could explain why Americans are so astronomically more inclined to homicidally USE their guns than their neighbors to the north.
Moore's documentary approach is scattershot at times, but there's no denying that he hits a huge number of satirical bulls-eyes along the way on his odyssey in search of the elusive answer. The film is an emotional roller coaster that keeps shifting between tragedy and absurdity in a thoughtful, tasteful way that often evokes `so that I might not cry' laughter. Whatever your feelings about Moore are, there's no denying that he has an eye for the absurd and a gift for catching interviewees off-guard with straightforward questions that they don't have a prepared response for. Particularly impressive is when he finally gets to interview `Moses' himself at his Beverly Hills mansion. Charlton Heston is so at a loss to explain the huge disparity between American and Canadian homicide rates that he inadvertently makes some racist slip-ups that shatter his long running `I marched with Martin Luther King' facade.
You'll be seeing a lot of anti-Moore diatribes (similar to the one by firstname.lastname@example.org just below this one in the user comments section) as the film makes its way around the country. Be mindful of one thing: ANYONE WHO ACCUSES THIS MOVIE OF ADVOCATING GUN CONTROL OR `TRYING TO PORTRAY LEGAL GUN OWNERSHIP AS INSANE' HASN'T ACTUALLY SEEN THE MOVIE!