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10 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
Wow! What a ride; lot's of memories … The Informant!, 16 September 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The beauty of the film is Matt Damon without question. Starring in so many action/dramas of late, it's great to see him going the comedy route. The guy was in Kevin Smith films and hammed it up in the Ocean's movies as well, but here he has center stage to show the kind of chops he has in the genre. With hair resembling a bad toupee and a pedophilic moustache, his Whitacre is mid-90s businessman elite, only with a conscience … sort of. A lover of crime films and courtroom dramas, he begins to live his life as though he is in one himself. When describing what is going on to the FBI at one point, he breaks out with the line, "It's like Rising Sun, the Crichton novel," or during a voice-over he begins to compare everything to The Firm. He sees that his company, a corn producer and therefore having its hands in pretty much every consumer product on the market, is criminally involved with competitors to fix prices and steal from their respective publics. Wanting to be the hero and save the day—hopefully with an endgame of being the only person left and in effect handed the company—he decides to fabricate a story to get the FBI in his sights and then pounces, taking part in a two year sting operation to bring Archer Daniels Midland down.

Soderbergh was live and in person at the TIFF screening I attended and, after being introduced as having been there twenty years previous with his debut feature, said, "(There's) no sex, no videotapes, but enough lies to last another twenty years." And boy was he right. As the movie progresses, you not only become aware of the lies being told in the company, but also the information Whitacre himself is withholding from the FBI, then from his lawyers, and inevitably from everyone. By the end, you can't help but wonder what exactly was the truth—the whole thing is just one big lie. I would love to know what the real Whitacre thinks about this representation. Does he enjoy the exaggerated caricature? Does he hate it because the imbecilic nature at the core of Damon's role hits too close to home? The activities portrayed are so off the wall and zany that I have to believe screenwriter Scott Z. Burns and Soderbergh just used the outline of fact and made it completely their own. My only complaint would be that it goes maybe ten to twenty minutes too long, finding a repetition that soon becomes obvious and lacking of the witty charm of the start.

With a cast of familiar faces and even some comic greats—The Smothers Brothers—it is still Damon that shines above all. His delivery is priceless and his facial expressions genuinely childlike in their enthusiasm. The entire film has him playing this game, unaware of how deep he was getting in and unaware that his extracurricular activities, to be exposed towards the end, made him a hypocrite. As long as he is the center of attention, being the man in the white hat taking down the bad guys with his FBI cohorts in tow, nothing else matters. Speaking of the agents, how great is it seeing Scott Bakula sinking his teeth into a lengthy role again? His straightman to Damon's goof could not be played more perfectly. And then you get Joel McHale of "The Soup" fame to play the most serious government agent in the world? It's just Soderbergh having fun with preconceptions, actually casting many comics in serious roles while Jason Bourne himself schlubs around with a permanent cheesy smile plastered on his face.

What transpires is funny enough, if just due to the fact a huge criminal investigation is occurring with a moron at its center, risking exposure every second. So excited that he is starring in his own version of all the sitcom television and pulp Hollywood movies he enjoys, the wonderment of having his own tape recorder hidden in his briefcase necessitates him to show someone how cool it is. He is 0014 after all, twice as smart as 007. But what works even better than the actual story is his mind itself. The epitome of Attention Deficit Disorder, Mark Whitacre loses his train of thought on a regular basis. At first you think you may be missing something as a character responds to a question and Damon's voice-over drowns it out. While important information is being relayed, all we hear are the ramblings of a crazy man, the most mundane things popping into his head as he smiles and nods. Some of these one-liners are so great you almost watch what's happening to get to the next tangent his brain wanders off towards.

So, whether or not the film itself is an accurate portrayal of the subject matter it's based on is a moot point. The real subject becomes finding out what will happen to Whitacre when the dust settles. Naïve to the core, we all know he is due a wakeup call at some point, even if his FBI handlers think he is the bravest man in America doing it all because he has a wife and kids and a sense of moral responsibility. If only they knew he just did it for the rush of excitement and because he couldn't think past step number one. Why comprehend that unearthing all the wheelings and dealings of a company he held a high position with could cost him his career when you can just enjoy the present and have fun living a duplicitous life? Do not feel sorry for him and do not question his motives—he really doesn't have any. Just take a seat and be ready to laugh hard.

26 out of 42 people found the following review useful:
Humans were offered a chance to assimilate; they refused … Daybreakers, 16 September 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Daybreakers is a slick action/horror that reminded me of the awesome Equilibrium in style, utilizing brand new technology to ease the life of vampires—the healthy ones that is, not those Nosferatu looking creepers starving for blood. The premise goes as follows: It is 2019 and most everyone has become a vampire. Their power and numbers become so vast that humans quickly go to the minority, hunted as cattle to use for sustenance and harvested for blood. Mankind has become extinct and although the government and scientists are working around the clock for a synthetic substitute, vampires are dying left and right. But before they do, the starvation process mutates them into winged creatures with pointy ears and shriveled skin, resembling those creatures of the dark we might have seen years ago; definitely not the refined ones as in "True Blood". I shouldn't use that comparison too much, however, as these vamps, while intelligent creatures "living and breathing" with the only difference from humans being their need for blood and fear of the sun, are more hybrids with the legends Hollywood has created. For example, early on we see our lead Hematologist, played by Ethan Hawke, mysteriously absent from his car's sideview mirror, a myth not true in the HBO series.

Some of the population has become sympathetic to the plight of the humans—they were one once after all. Among these is Hawke's character, a scientist doing his best to create a way to stay alive without the need of the dying race. His hopes are that once an alternative is found, the humans will be able to repopulate and live in harmony with them, hunting no longer necessary. That's all well and good, but you can't tell a bloodthirsty creature to stop lusting for a kill, and the government, it would seem, doesn't want to either. Sam Neill plays the man orchestrating it all; I'm not sure if they blatantly call him it or not, but, for all intents and purposes, he is the President. Watching his numbers slowly devolve into uncontrollable beasts, monsters not even they can contain, his desire for a synthetic blood is at an all-time high. The necessity is so great that a trial is held prematurely, resulting in a great bloody mess, one the audience lapped up and cheered jubilantly for.

Seeing that the vampires have lost all resemblance of their former selves, Hawke's Edward takes it upon himself to get out while he can, stumbling upon a band of humans, not surprisingly untrusting in his attempt to hide them from the authorities. When they see he is a man of his word and a friend to the cause, Edward is shown the holy grail of humanity's last hope for survival, a man that has become a man once more, changed back from the vampiric state that once consumed him. As subject zero, Hawke must use his body and story to figure out a cure to the plague that has ravaged Earth. The solution may no longer be a need for a blood substitute, but now a way to turn everyone back into humans.

The story is strong and entertaining throughout despite its obvious ending and reconciliation. However, it is what makes up the duration that puts the film above the normal vampire action romp. I love the technology that has been invented, making life entirely vampire-proof. Every building in the cities have been fitted with connecting tunnels so people may move to and fro without the threat of sun, every window is equipped with a black out shutter, and cars are allowed to go into lockdown with front and side monitors for daytime driving. The brainstorming session to come up with these gadgets had to have been a ton of fun. I can just imagine giant white boards outlining each shortcoming to the vampire and then the multitude of ways to solve them. It is a decade of work by an increasingly growing population, so the fact that it all allows for the 24/7 travel of a vampire makes sense. They are the new humans, so a way to work long hours and not have to hibernate half the day away is key.

Some problems do exist in the need to glamorize and make everything visually interesting. One scene in particular looks beautiful, but makes you question the validity of survival in that situation. It's a daytime meeting between Hawke, (who by the way plays the role perfectly; he does it seriously, a necessity for his Edward to be taken realistically as the Samaritan he is), and a rebel fighter played by Willem Dafoe, (again perfect, but so over-the-top that each one-liner met with rapturous applause, which could have also been because he was in the audience watching). Hawke is directed to park under a tree and get out to talk, deftly avoiding the rays of light peaking through the leaves above him. I guess only direct sunlight affects them. But hey, this is a horror film looking to entertain; one can't take those things too seriously. It's all about the exploding bodie, decapitated heads, and slomotion mass of humanity with biting, blood, and violence at the end—a truly stunning scene. The Spierigs play it right at every turn, making a helluva good time in a compact 98 minutes that could surprise the box office come January.

15 out of 21 people found the following review useful:
There is a holiness to the heart's affections … Bright Star, 16 September 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Director Jane Campion has always been one of those names who's work I just never had the pleasure of viewing. Finally, a few years back, I had the opportunity to see The Piano almost fifteen years after its release. The chance to watch her new tale of John Keats and love Fanny Brawne at the Toronto International Film Festival couldn't be passed up. Campion herself was there to introduce the Special Presentation screening and spoke about how this story was pure to her. Spanning two years of first love between a beloved poet and his muse, the tale is at the same time both heartwarmingly genuine in its passion and crushingly tragic in its aftermath. She gets the period style just right and brings out two amazing turns from her leads; there are very little, if any, faults with Bright Star.

The story that takes place in the 19th century, a time where a man couldn't even conceive of the notion to marry unless he had a job and influx of money. When the man in question is a poet, you can imagine how hard a feat that can be—his work relying solely on critical acclaim and the success of his books—weak at best if one shop owner is to be believed that he bought twenty to sell and none had left his gaze. Living with a friend and fellow poet, Keats and Charles Armitage Brown find themselves with a lot of time on their hands to craft and create their next best artwork. The two rent space from the Brawne family, well Brown does since he is the one with money, and spend most moments alone behind closed doors seemingly doing very little of anything. Eventually, curiosity, and being fed-up with the sarcastic cruelty of Brown, makes young Fanny decide to meet Keats and gauge his make-up. The man is a virtual recluse except when caring for his deathly ill brother, using all his free time to think and compose. This meeting intrigues them both and is the first step to their budding relationship together, one that sees her critiquing his words before eventually being the subject of them.

Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw, as Brawne and Keats respectively, completely embody their characters and bring them to life on screen. They know their motivations and their place in the world, she falling in love with him, knowing he can't love her due to his place in society's hierarchy, and he falling for her, knowing he can't until he sells his words and earns the right to. Social restraints notwithstanding, the two begin a (not so) secret union of love built on mutual respect and affection. Both very young, this is their first relationship, and one of the greatest details of the film is in portraying it just that way. When Cornish and Whishaw kiss, they do so gently and slow, closed mouth and no movement. They are unsure what to do and that naïve innocence makes the courting so real and effective to watch. Their love is so strong that any adversity is made so much more relevant and all encompassing to their world. When Keats must leave to write abroad, they both write letters, feeling the emptiness of loss until a reply is received. Brawne is so smitten and taken by his words of true love, how he would rather live a lifetime of three days with her as a butterfly than fifty common years weighed down by responsibilities of earth, she begins capturing the flying creatures, making her bedroom a sanctuary for them to fly about.

Two years together and a bond unbreakable, their love is beautiful in its simplicity. Always so pure, (is Campion ever correct on that statement), and childlike in reverence, they want nothing more than to be together. Her parents allow the relationship to continue even though they know he must become a success before letting her leave them and the only real blockade comes from Keats' friend Brown, played wonderfully by Paul Schneider adding the comic relief and a bit of conflict. Wanting the space and time to do his work with Keats, each time Brawne comes by to steal her love away, Brown is always quick with a quip to put her down and complain about the intrusion. But it is a playful relationship they have, as Brawne is never shy to shoot back with a biting word timed to perfection. Schneider infuses the role with so much heart, as he usually does, in his love for Keats and friendship with Fanny. When true tragedy strikes, he becomes a beacon of strength, for the most part, and holds himself responsible in keeping his poet friend safe.

Bright Star is a romance for sure, and its bittersweet ending only bolsters that fact. Nothing can come between the love both Cornish and Whishaw portray in the film. The hardships that hit them make their bond ever stronger, realizing how much they need each other. Risking the rumors and talking behind their backs of a love frowned upon and socially rejected, nothing else matters as they are their own world, living together through it all, even with death knocking at the door. The metaphor of the butterflies resonates so fully when you look at the short time Keats and Brawne have with one another on this earth. They take that time and live without regret, knowing that without the other they would have nothing. Any credibility in his poetry comes from his feelings for her and her purpose for going on lives within him. So subtle and immense in its details, Jane Campion has crafted a romance to engross and affect all those who take the time to watch it. Highly recommended for sure, its simplicity hides its immense emotional worth, making for a film not to be taken lightly.

Cracks (2009/I)
40 out of 49 people found the following review useful:
The most important thing in life is desire … Cracks, 16 September 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It is time to welcome a new member into the Scott family of filmmakers. Ridley's daughter Jordan Scott has arrived with Cracks, a story about a London boarding school and the activities that occur within, based on a novel by Sheila Kohler. Scott spoke of how growing up in a similar type setting is what led her to want to bring the tale to the big screen; the traditional atmosphere where the establishment itself becomes every student's world. The girls in the film speak about "home" yet never in detail or with a clear memory as to what they are missing. Many had been sent for a year or less only to find that they were trapped, sent away for the entirety of their youth. Scott really has a handle on the material and gets the aesthetic just right, from the environment, the costumes, the attitudes, and the cliquish superiority complex that comes with an isolated upbringing where your teacher is queen and you her conduit to the little people.

It starts by giving an idea of what life is like at the school through the diving team. Coached by Eva Green's Miss G, an ex-pupil that stayed on upon graduation, the team has a hierarchy corresponding to the ages of the girls. Led by Juno Temple's Di Radfield, along with her cohort and lackey Poppy, played by Imogen Poots, the girls rule the school. Radfield most assuredly has a complex and need to be on top—she makes butter, in one instance, at risk of getting in trouble and then puts an underling in her place when the piece of bread given to her is lacking; she got the butter for them so she better have as much as she wants—and therefore becomes threatened when her kingdom is invaded by a Spanish princess. María Valverde's Fiamma has had some sort of relationship with a boy outside her class system and, as punishment to reform, been sent to the English school. In her mind it's just a warning and will only last a short time, but she soon finds out that is what all the other girls, there for years, thought at the start too.

Fiamma is the catalyst that shakes things up and turns the school's tenuous equilibrium upside-down. A threat to Radfield and Poppy, she is also the embodiment of all that Miss G hoped her life would be. Wanting to be the idol of the girls, maybe even staying to teach because it was the only way she could pretend to have lived out her dreams, the stories she tells of her worldly travels soon are proved false by the fact Fiamma can recite the exact words, having read the books Miss G steals from. It's a fascinating role reversal and mirroring of idolatry when you watch Radfield's desire to please and ultimately become Miss G trumped by Miss G's own hope and want to do the same with Fiamma. Here is a grown woman filled with jealousy and vanity, becoming one of her students in mentality and action. The problem with this, however, is the fact that she is a person of power. Able to get her way due to the very fact she is counted upon to watch over these girls, an abuse of her job risks becoming a destruction of trust and a surefire way to destroy her own life as a result.

One must credit all involved for doing a bang-up job at enveloping the audience in this world; imbuing a sense of realism, bringing the past in front of our eyes. Besides the actresses named above, the entire rest of the cast are virtual unknowns, many of whom—the youngsters especially—are just local boarding school students themselves, brought on to perform. Three of the girls actually all went to the same school as well, so everyone involved knew what went into this closed off society; this world governed and policed by its own rules. Jordan Scott wanted it all to have a sense of fairy tale-like splendor, which is why she put it on the island setting she did. Feeling as though in an environment like New Zealand or some other exotic locale, she was able to transport these girls to a new world, one where they were separated from reality and able to live for each other without foreign interference … until Fiamma's arrival of course.

While the beginning of the film is effective due to its period authenticity and performances, the story itself is somewhat sleight. There isn't much going on besides some adolescent girl bickering and jockeying for praise and approval with Miss G. By no means is it bad or boring, I just hoped for more conflict and weight, something that does come in towards the end, a little too late though. Once we begin to see how far both Radfield and Miss G will go to win the affections of the person they desire, the stakes do get higher and darker. The tension is ratcheted up and a Lord of the Flies type feel seeps in, amping up both the acting and visual style. Scott utilizes the forest and outdoors more here, blocking characters through trees in a foreboding way, letting camera angles and facial expressions speak rather than words. I realize that the opening hour and a half or so is needed to allow for the stellar final twenty minutes, but maybe the danger could have been alluded to earlier. What first just seemed to be conflict between the girls doesn't open up to the possibility of their teacher's inclusion until much later on. Ms. Scott definitely has a bright future ahead of her if Cracks is any indication. Much more than the familial pedigree that precedes her, I believe she will be standing on her own as an artist very soon.

Face (2009)
22 out of 35 people found the following review useful:
You, you, you, you are so pretty! … Visgae, 15 September 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Sometimes an image can get you excited to see a film. When looking to fill a hole in a five film day at TIFF, my friend and I saw an image that looked both fantastical and intriguing, so much so that we blindly said yes, we are going to watch Visage. I'm the first person to say that a movie can be loved for visual style alone as I always hold the image as more powerful than the word. Oftentimes I can be distracted by a great composition or frame to the point where I'll give it a pass on the actual plot being driven forward by the imagery. Film is a visceral medium and those artists that realize this fact, able to adapt a book or story to be cinematic and not just a rehash of words, are usually those I enjoy most. I thought that Ming-liang Tsai might become one of these auteurs, but while most of the film is stunning to behold, I could never get around the laborious runtime or the virtual lack of any story. Supposedly it's about a film crew shooting the Salomé myth at the Louvre, however, until the very end, I didn't even know they were at the gallery nor did I know a linear story was occurring. I just thought it was vignette after vignette of grandeur with the cast members being the only constant.

Yes, there are definite "characters" throughout, Fanny Ardent as the film's producer, Jean-Pierre Léaud as the leading man, Laetitia Casta as the leading lady, and Kang-sheng Lee as the director; I did know a film was going on, just not that it was necessarily a plot point. The beginning started quite nicely actually, a static shot of a coffee shop table through a window, the conversations of the table off-screen heard, musings about a film thrown about. It's a pretty shot that sets the stage for more static camera set-ups pointing straight and catching the action in front of it. The next sequence has the camera high up in a kitchen, filming the sink below. The faucet breaks when turned on and we are treated to about ten to twenty minutes of water being sprayed about, alternately contained and made worse with buckets and broken pipes underneath. Definitely a chore to sit through, the end result is quite gorgeous—a view of the hallway full of water and a fish tank in the foreground, juxtaposing the contained water and the liquid running free. But then it all becomes strange again as the culprit of the sink fiasco goes in, what I assume is his mother's room, putting his hand on her stomach before she takes it and pushes it lower. What happened there, I have no idea.

So, the general idea becomes apparent as odd things occur. For every scene of artistic splendor, (a view outside a skyscraper watching Ardent through a window covered in reflection at left while the right half of the screen shows cars speeding by on a highway; an extended sequence in pitch black darkness, illuminated by a single lighter played with by Casta and an unknown man that was in her bathtub), there is one that is just a chore to watch, (Casta blacking out a huge window with tape, going around the edges over and over again until covering it up to the center; A-lister Mathieu Amalric showing up for a random scene in the woods, silently engaging in some sort of sexual activity with Lee's director). I really think that you could cull hundreds of still frames for a successful art exhibit, unfortunately when you put them together in motion, the viewing experience can be painful.

Even as an art film, which it indeed is, success is limited. I would compare it to Matthew Barney's Cremaster series, only less outrageous. Whereas that one's laborious shoot intrigues due to the fact that its inhabitants are in grotesque costume or engaging in otherworldly activities begging you to wonder what's going on, Visage is too close to a real film, making me linger on the question of whether I should be following it normally rather than letting it envelope me. I loved some sequences, including the cigarette lighter illumination; a couple fun song numbers that are obviously lip-synched to; and a final erotic scene, (maybe?), with three women gyrating and disrobing in front of a man lying in a bathtub, covered with tomato paste, inside a meat locker. One can't forget it as the women look anything but sexy while in that location and the sound of meat hooks and chains clanging makes the whole thing rather jarring. And how can you not be oddly intrigued by the strand of saliva connecting the bathtub man's lips with the main woman's after a kiss, stretching further and further out until finally dissolving? Yet even those moments couldn't detract from the others that only found themselves leaving me shaking my head.

The characters all play themselves, or at least an embodiment of themselves, (Léaud's role is called Antoine after the famous Truffaut series he starred in many years ago). It's an interesting fact that may or may not hold any real relevance to the proceedings. When you have Léaud and the director talking about renowned filmmakers and how a little bird Titi embodies them all, or the lengthy attempt of Casta going up a ladder in full heavy wardrobe, you just start wondering when it will finally be over. I won't say it's without some merit, but I also can't recommend it to anyone except an art class looking for inspiration. In that case, the class can fast-forward and rewind, not worrying about the narrative weakly holding it all together, but instead focus on the visual construction, watching for single frames that have the potential to enrapture attention. It's the only way to get something from what's on the screen.

Antichrist (2009)
13 out of 22 people found the following review useful:
Can't I just be afraid, without a definite object? … Antichrist, 15 September 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Willem Dafoe, getting to know the director during Manderlay, just happened to ask his agent what von Trier was up to, and so he made some calls to find out. It ends up that he was in the midst of a great depression and had written a script to hopefully turn that despair into something artistic. After taking a read through, Dafoe agreed to star, even though he knew Lars wanted to find his actress first. Thankfully, that woman ended up being the phenomenal Charlotte Gainsbourg, so all worked out in the end. Antichrist is much talked about, controversial, and a feat of pure artistic genius. Utilizing just these two actors for the duration, von Trier's very personal journey towards redemption and retribution comes to life; a tale of two parents finding out that maybe nature is really a creation of Satan and not God. This goes for the trees, the forest, the animals, and most especially human nature—that of sexual urges, the abstraction of love, and the turmoil of guilt and how it can ravage anyone's soul.

Separated into chapters, introduced by full-frame textural paintings with hand-scrawled titles, it all begins in glorious black and white slomotion—simply gorgeous to behold. Set to a classical opera piece, we catch abstract glimpses of Dafoe and Gainsbourg's couple in the midst of sexual acts in the shower and after. The water falls over them in sharp clarity, each drop visible, bottles fall as limbs flail, and we see their toddler son escape from his crib. Stunning in its simplicity and starkness, it is as though we are watching moving photographs, each short vignette a static shot of contortion and physicality dramatically slowed to a crawl. This prologue is explicit—complete with a shot that almost guarantees it an NC-17 rating—but still retains tastefulness in its art and beauty. This is the moment that sets up the entire movie, two adults making love while their young child decides to catch snowflakes out the upstairs window … you can imagine the result of that and the feeling of extreme guilt and sadness that goes along with it. We are only ten minutes in and already imagery is ingrained to our mind, the slow decent of a stuffed teddy bear and the puff of snow sent up as we watch from the window above.

The rest of the film is broken into the emotional steps a person goes through after such tragedy: Grief, Pain, and Despair. One more chapter is added before the epilogue, however, and it's of the Three Beggars. As spoken in the film, "when the three beggars arrive, someone must die." Religious undertones abound as the story progresses, Satan and God coming and going while Dafoe's therapist attempts to treat his wife for the extreme depression she finds herself in. He needs to find out what it is that truly scares her in order to cure her, trying his best to be objective and keep his love for her away. Every time she comes close to really approaching the pain at her core she gives into her sexual urges to help forget the suffering and replace it with lust. The very act that brought them to where they are becomes her escape, but the knowledge of what happened when they last were together can't be far from sight.

A sort of Eden becomes her pyramid top of fear: the forest and all it holds to frighten her so fully. Dafoe smiles because it is Gainsbourg that always wanted to go camping, even going away to a cabin with her son while researching her thesis about the genocide of women throughout time. You start to wonder about her mental state and when exactly it fractured. The thought of walking on the grass scares her so much that she just runs for the safety of the cabin when they arrive. It is there that the pure evil of nature takes hold of her, turning her into a beast of violence devolving any semblance of humanity she had left. You may have heard about the genital abuse and extremely uncomfortable moments of harsh mutilation, and I will weigh in by saying it is all true and just as harrowing as you might imagine. Here are the reasons for a son's death, the body parts that take over, making all else seem unimportant against the sexual bliss of climax. Their sex organs are the murder weapons and have been throughout time. Hormones and feelings of superiority—males oppressing females back as far as can be remembered—equality unattainable strictly from what lies between our legs.

Nature takes over and keeps the mind at bay, always stronger and meaner as a result. Once you remove your self from the constructs of man, from the city and all the creature comforts and ways to repent or cure, chaos truly does reign. However, moments such as Gainsbourg walking across a bridge in the forest, a long shot that fills the frame with trees, a purplish hue clouding the air as her body moves in extreme slomotion, call to mind pastel paintings worthy of gallery exposure. There is utter beauty amongst the depravity on display. With a final scene that's unforgettable with its mass of faceless women rushing down a hill, or the white bodies buried underneath the ground that Dafoe crawls over to hopefully reach safety, you will be moved by a full range of emotion, from disgust to beauty. I may never want to experience Antichrist again, but that does nothing to lesson its absolute brilliance and creative courage to use imagery in order to send an audience to a place they try to avoid at all costs. Lars von Trier takes us into the hell of the mind and refuses to compromise by letting us out for even a short breath of air. I don't think I've taken a deep breath since.

7 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
TIFF 09: They're making themselves a friend … An Education, 14 September 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The subject matter seemed so much darker and serious than Hornby's previous work; until finding out it was based on a memoir during the opening credits, I really was perplexed. We found out later, after being asked in the post-screening Q&A why he chose to not adapt his own work, that he took this ten-page memoir because it already had the structure and characters, he just needed to infuse it with an interesting narrative. Adapting to him means "taking out about 3/4 of what you just put in" the novel; here, however was a brand new project, so invigorating to him creatively that he relayed how he may never port another of his own stories to the screen again. While utilizing some heavy material—it is a coming-of-age tale about a girl with aspirations to attend Oxford before her dream derails when courted by an older man—he does infuse his trademark humor too, a fact I'm sure Alfred Molina is happy about.

Molina plays the lead character's father, a man who wants the best for his daughter and knows that getting into the prestigious university is the best way for her to get it. At times hard on her, he is also a very genial man who gets sidetracked when shown something he finds interesting, one who stumbles on his words and reverses decisions on a whim when trying to impress someone. His delivery of Hornby's words is sheer comic perfection, stealing many a scene. As one audience member told him in the Q&A, he "has never sucked". Surely a phrase begging to be elaborated on with any number of innuendo jokes, Molina just took it in stride with a smile. But it is in his role of Jack that shows how deep this film is; every piece to the puzzle is as important as the next, the bodies on the periphery are key to the success and realism of the story. Scherfig even says how "contained" the movie is, how "everything belongs in that time bubble," of suburban London, shown in all its glory from costume, sets, manners, and actions.

Carey Mulligan truly is a revelation as Jenny, the center of it all. The pretty wholesome girl next door, Jenny studies hard and achieves high grades in everything but Latin, the Achilles Heel to her dream of Oxford. She brings home the "proper" boy and toes the line as her strict Catholic school and involved parents have lain at her feet. It all comes unraveled one rainy day, though, when David comes into her world. A harmless invitation to drive her cello home so as not to become ruined from the water, (with her walking outside next to the car, to be proper), starts the relationship, but the connection is strengthened quickly after flowers are sent to wish her good luck at a recital the next day. The part is played wonderfully by Peter Sarsgaard, a role that just made sense to him—"(David) wanted to be 16 more than wanting to date someone 16". He is a boy in a man's body, living the high life with wealth acquired by nefarious means, strolling around town with his high-class cohorts, nary a care in the world. That kind of life would attract any woman and Jenny is no exception, nor is her father who falls hook line and sinker for his confident words and successful air. But as the story progresses, we soon learn that this teenager may be more mature than her thirty-something beau. Willing to wait until she is seventeen to make love to her, David's need for pet names while holding each other—Minnie and Bub-a-lub—shows the childlike mentality he holds. But that just scratches the surface of his true make-up.

You really do become involved with Mulligan and her evolution into a woman. A smart girl, she fits in perfectly with David and his friend Danny, portrayed by Dominic Cooper. They talk art, culture, and thought, conversations that show how uneducated Danny's girlfriend Helen is. She is refined and plays the woman of means right, but her "blonde" moments are many and Rosamund Pike pulls it off nicely. I'm so used to seeing her play the smart, strong woman, so to be so taken over by her vacant stare and lack of humor really tells how capable of an actress she is. The juxtaposition of these two women, at home, a nightclub, or an auction is jarring and shows the appeal these two men have in bringing the youngster into the mix. Danny always seems to be aware of something David is not letting on, but his coarse abruptness when "acquiring" a map to sell places your mind into thinking it concerns how far they will go for their money.

With an actress such as Emma Thompson, (the principal), playing the girl's learned conscious, reminders of the possibilities that come with educational success, there is not a sub-par performance to be seen. Mulligan has a great exchange with Thompson towards the ending, asking the principal what the point of it all is. One of the film's most memorable and thought-provoking moments, the student finally schools the teacher, but while invigorating and so "take it to the man" fun, you soon find how blinded by love she is, forgetting herself and letting laziness set in. My one quibble with the film comes in the final act from this instance and the need for redemption to reconcile the words and ideas shared in the confrontation. It is rushed and possibly unearned, but I found myself able to look beyond it as an appropriate conclusion to what came before. Other than that, though, Hornby and Scherfig have definitely created a stellar work, letting Molina run free and showing the world a glimpse of a talent ready to stick around for years to come in the beautiful Carey Mulligan.

6 out of 18 people found the following review useful:
I'm a kicker; it says so in my chart … Jennifer's Body, 11 September 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I'll admit to not being very excited to see Jennifer's Body on first look. Coming as a fast-tracked script, hot on the heels of Diablo Cody's successful debut Juno, it just looked rushed, abused, and left for dead. After the production house Fox Atomic folded and dissolved back into its parent, the future did not look bright. However, being a teen horror flick starring Megan Fox had to all but assure it a theatrical release of some sort. And here it is at the Toronto Film Festival as part of the Midnight Madness series. I had hoped to view it in that atmosphere and the spectacle it would become, but instead had to settle for a press screening during the day with about five other attendees rather than the rowdy sellout crowd including Fox herself. Thankfully though, the film didn't need a circus to make it fun, it does it all by itself. Camp galore and intentional unintentional laughter help make up for any shortcomings to the horror genre on the whole. But then isn't a complete subgenre created around fun, pop culture, and absurdity? If I've learned anything from this film it is that you never sacrifice a non-virgin to the devil when only a virgin can do the trick … it's just not done people. If any credit can be given to Cody—despite the very hyper-tween dialogue that was cute in Juno, but eventually more and more annoying, especially here—it is in the inventive creativity used on the whole "sell your soul to the devil" idea. Usually when a ritual act of that kind is committed, bad things happen to those that signed the contract. Here, however, through an occult loophole, the botched deal causes a rift in dimensions and leaves a possessed cheerleader out for human flesh. Because, honestly, what's better when needing to clear up blemishes, liven your hair, and add a little glow to your cheeks then blood? In perfect casting, that of a not-so-talented actress in Megan Fox, Cody's dialogue fits right at home with the campiness as well. Fox's delivery is so tongue-in-cheek that whether or not she'd have acted the same if trying to be serious, the role is on the money. Seductive, sarcastic, and deadly, Jennifer's body is indeed a lethal weapon.

It is not just the somewhat tired devil angle being flipped on its head that's the only surprise, though, nor is it the fact that I had a good time with a "bad" film. The cast is full of memorable cameos as well as effective leads, the blood and gore never go too crazy and oftentimes occur off screen with only the result shown, and the storytelling structure successfully is bookmarked with moments that take place after the bulk of the action. The story is actually a retelling of what happened by the true star of the film Needy, played by Amanda Seyfried. Here is a mousy little girl that is best friends with the hottest and most popular high schooler in their sleepy town. She has an equally geeky boyfriend and wardrobe, but the sandbox history with Jennifer to keep her "cool kid" cred alive. This is the Needy we are introduced to in the trailer, but most definitely not the one we see in the opening scene. No, that one is a stone-cold kicker, locked inside a mental institution/prison, scars over her body and fan mail/gifts flowing in. The film isn't about Fox's titular Jennifer and her demonic possession; it's about Seyfried's Needy and how such a sweet girl could become so utterly bad-ass.

With a whole cast of people having a good time hamming things up, there are always a couple standouts. Not counting a fun cameo by genre vet Lance Henriksen, the performances by Johnny Simmons, J.K. Simmons, and Adam Body beg mention. Young Simmons is a precisely calculated bundle of nerves and awkwardness playing Needy's boyfriend Chip. He epitomizes the naïve boy stumbling on his words and left without a backbone when Jennifer comes to steal his girl away to attend a concert at a bar outside of town. The elder Simmons actually showcases many of the same insecurities as a teacher. Pulling off his best George Segal look, this role is the exact opposite to the usual boisterous and outspoken characters we are used to watching him play. But the guy that steals the show, and every scene he is in, has to be Adam Brody. The kid just exudes charisma and possesses impeccable comic timing as the prick lead singer of Low Shoulder, a band who's single is played everywhere and becomes a sort of unofficial anthem for the town after a freak fire burns down the club they play at, along with many of the townies in attendance.

And it is that scene which characterizes the tone of the film. So random and so surreal, the bar is burning to the ground, people are screaming and running around in flames, yet Fox and Seyfried are watching it all while Brody nonchalantly tells them how happy he is that they got out. Carnage left and right, he just offers a drink and an invitation to his van. The juxtaposition is so outrageous that it works completely, as do all the other moments of absurd hilarity. Because, you see, Jennifer's Body is not out to reign supreme in the slasher or psychological terror bins of horror; it strictly wants to have fun while serving up a nice helping of blood and dismemberment. Don't take anything seriously—and honestly, how could you—ignore the nails-on-a-chalkboard dialogue, ("I'm not jealous" "You are so Jello, you are lime green Jello), and just let the camp consume you. Complete with a pretty decent rock compilation soundtrack and end credits montage with a pretty great epilogue to the party, all involved play it right and never take anything seriously. That's a good thing.

9 (2009/I)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
You forget to remember to be scared … 9, 9 September 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Is it wrong that Coheed & Cambria was playing in my head the entire length of my screening of Shane Acker's 9? I guess that just goes to show how memorable the trailer is or how large my affinity for the band. I say that as an anecdote, though, not to cryptically express how I thought the film was boring—it's far from it. I have not seen the 2005 Oscar nominated short for which Acker has expanded this from, but he has definitely infused enough plot and fantastical science fiction elements to warrant going from 11 to 79 minutes. The soul stealing of the original is ported over, yet the reasoning becomes deeper as the life source's origin of these inanimate objects comes into play. This is a post-apocalyptic world that has been eradicated of humans by the machines they created. A scientist crafted an artificial intelligence powerful enough to advance technology to the nth degree, but as most stories of this ilk go, was usurped by the government to manufacture weapons, breeding violence and the eventual takeover. The scientist saw this failure and did all he could to breathe life into nine little stitched burlap humanoids to hopefully save the planet from complete extinction.

The tale begins as the titular "9" awakens for the first time, without a voice, and curious as to what he has been brought into. We are as confused as he, unsure of our surroundings, until the window shutters are pushed open, revealing the destruction that once was urban landscape. Adventure ensues as "9" stumbles upon others like him, older and wiser, some hiding to survive, others fighting to keep going. A small metal half-sphere, foreign markings on its face, soon becomes a crucial piece of paraphernalia too, both as a device to destroy them and save them. So it goes to these keepers of humanity to bring life back to the dying planet, a task realized while on the journey to save themselves as the original fabricated brain is awakened, ever more deadly than the cat-skulled beast terrorizing them at the start, sucking the souls from their soft, hollow bodies. It becomes a test of time and courage, learning to work as a team and sacrifice everything for the greater good of life itself.

To say too much about the story itself will only ruin the nuance and simplicity to what is truly going on. There is always something bigger lingering in the background—stakes much higher than the more evident plot at the forefront—hidden behind the more minimalist action/adventure of these humanoids and their survival. The bigger questions of why "6" continually draws the metal half-sphere or even of how these beings came to live and breath will be answered as the characters themselves discover the truth. "1" has been leading the way since the beginning, guilting them all to follow him because he's kept them alive thus far, but to what end? Always hiding and running, "1" does what he can to squash any opinions of leaving to find out what is truly out there, driving "7", the self-made warrior, away to fend for herself and "2" to cloak his scientific curiosity and stick with the herd. It isn't until "9" arrives that the status quo is shaken up, either from his bravery or from his naivety—making the mistake that puts them all in danger—allowing for the necessity to chose whether to live or die.

9 has a pretty stellar voice cast with Elijah Wood as "9", Jennifer Connelly as "7", Christopher Plummer as "1", John C. Reilly as "5", and the underused Crispin Glover as "6". However, the real acting prowess comes from the animation driving it all. The original short had no language and relied solely on expression and movement, something that definitely carries over here to enhance each being's realism and humanity. It is a dark landscape with great use of light and atmospheric elements. Every action sequence is well-crafted and composed to stay interesting at all times; the machines reminding me of those disfigured toys under Sid's bed in Toy Story. The film really does become even more of a success being an independent feature from Acker alone; this isn't Pixar or Dreamworks with a highly paid staff, just former/current(?) Weta Digital artist and whomever he recruited, with the help of two visionaries in Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov. And how about the imagery shone via "3" and "4"s projector-like eyes? Vintage black and white work of war and history, infused with the machines yet retaining the antiquity of time.

Its runtime may seem short, but rest assured that its story is distilled to the necessities without any filler to kill momentum or pacing. Visually stunning and unique, 9 is a great alternative to the kid films generally utilizing the medium. Don't forget that this thing is rated PG-13 and may have the goods to scare some youngsters unprepared for the battles or heady themes. It isn't a movie that works for children with hidden treasures adults can find; it's an adult film holding ideas of technology's future, humanity's fate, destruction and rebirth. I can see Acker eventually moving into live action as the storytelling is there as is the direction to hold an audience's attention by being inventive and interesting. Even his use of sound excels due to one short moment of music, a climatic scene changing from relieved joy to scared trepidation in a heartbeat, all while "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" plays on an old Victrola; a beautiful juxtaposition indeed, and just one of many in a film smarter than appearances may initially infer, full of heart and hope for the future.

Fracture (2007)
Helpless actually … Fracture, 5 September 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Think of yourself," says David Strathairn's DA Joe Lobruto. To which Willie Beachum replies, "I've done enough of that." It is a great exchange towards the end of the film that expresses beautifully the mind set of this young hotshot attorney, thinking he could sleepwalk through his last case in the public sector before jumping ship to the lucrative private one. Ryan Gosling is the kind of actor that can pull off the confidence of a man on top of the world, while also the haunted one that realizes the dire consequences of his actions, bringing that moral core back out, the one that got him into the business in the first place. Fracture is a film that examines the fall from grace of intellectuals who believe they are above the law. Between Gosling's Beachum's careless thinking that he could watch a case implode and just walk away and Anthony Hopkins' Ted Crawford, the man on trial for murdering his wife, thinking he's crafted the perfect crime, we as an audience see what hubris is and how humbling defeat can be. The only difference is that one of these men has a chance to redeem himself—it's just a matter of whether he will.

The script utilized by director Gregory Hoblit, (the man behind a favorite of mine, Fallen), brings him back to the courtroom, a locale that seems to suit him well. His attachment to "L.A. Law" has reaped some Emmy awards and a couple of his previous films include Hart's War and the taut gem Primal Fear, so courtroom drama is definitely a strength. Fracture's screenplay thinks it's more clever than it is, but the writing and strong dialogue help alleviate that problem by engrossing you in the tale, cloaking its true twists longer than should perhaps be the case. His direction, on-the-other-hand, is on its game, garnering two great performances from both Gosling and Hopkins, utilizing a supporting cast with some big talent well, (although I do have to agree with the criticism I remember hearing when the film came out concerning Rosamund Pike—she is beautiful and a good actress, but did she really have to be American with that horrid accent?), and some nice visual flourishes. The murder scene at the center of everything is beautifully shot and blocked, using reflections any chance it can: loved the frame of Hopkins and Embeth Davidtz looking at each other, one clear and the other behind glass, enjoyed the glimpse of Hopkins in the pool of blood on the floor, and thought the reflection of the credits in the glass marbles shooting through the cool spiral contraption was a nice touch.

After those moments of artistic flair, though, the film settles into a standard courtroom drama, heavy on acting and expression, both facial and body language. Hopkins is playing a game, looking to get under the skin of everyone involved with the case to deflect the truth and ruin the lives of those who hurt him. His constant provoking of Gosling is a delight as he does his best to distract him, anger him, and allow him to take himself out of the case. Seeing this young kid show up at his arraignment in a tuxedo couldn't have been more perfect; here was a guy with the proverbial one foot out the door, here is a guy already so distracted that he won't have to work too hard, just a little push should be all that's necessary. The courtroom does become a bit of a circus with revelations being brought to light at inopportune times, but that just adds to the show being put on. The bigger it is, the louder and more boisterous it becomes, only widens Hopkins' smile, accompanying it with that subtle little wink saying, "thanks for playing".

There are conveniences for sure, especially Pike's boss/love interest, serving only as a way to keep the MacGuffin that is Gosling's awaiting job at Wooten Sims as well as a connection to her father, one that helps amp the tension of a scene crucial to the outcome, yet who's appearance is very brief. But, truthfully, aren't all films convenient to a point? The real success of a script comes from the ability to make those instances seem real and necessary. Life is a sequence of accidents and coincidences that build on each other to propel us forward into the future. The strength of the writing plugs some plot holes and allows the audience to go with the flow and believe that this aeronautical engineer had it all planned out to be foolproof. And both our leads are just plain fun to watch, one becoming more and more confident as the other falls deeper and deeper into frustration.

I use the quote I do for the title of this review because it is an appropriate truth that comes out when Davidtz's character asks Hopkins if being so smart makes him feel powerful. His reply of, "no, helpless actually," couldn't be more true. The knowledge that those you deal with can't understand concepts so simple to yourself is frustrating; the inability to just speak shorthand and be understood leaves one helpless because one can only go at the speed of the slowest person in the equation. However, on the flipside to that, when you are the only one included in the problem, your intellect becomes power because your speed is faster than those on the other end. Hopkins has but one opponent able to bring him down, yet Gosling's drive and need to win is assumed to be too much to make him matter. The question becomes whether greed or justice propels that drive and, if provoked, whether the sleeping beast could be awakened out of pride and moral fortitude. A lawyer with morals you ask? That never happens … does it?

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