By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, September 25, 2012 - 0 Comments
As the TIFF circus folds up its tent, here are my 10 personal favorites from the festival. It’s a subjective list. I watched more than 50 features programmed at the festival, some in Cannes last May. But with so much to see and so little time, there are still bound to be some great movies that I missed. Note that four films on the list are documentaries:
1. The Act of Killing
Joshua Oppenheimer’s shattering documentary about Indonesia’s 1965 genocide is without precedent—a portrait of mass murder by the perpetrators, proud gangsters who re-enact their crimes for the camera.
2. Stories We Tell
Boldly putting her entire family on camera, Sarah Polley unwraps the riddle of her parentage with exquisite craft. Deconstructing as she goes, she turns the home movie, real and faux, into new genre of investigative memoir.
3. The Master
Acting doesn’t get any better as Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix, cast as a L. Ron Hubbard-like cult leader and his unstable acolyte, play truth or dare. Paul Thomas Anderson’s gorgeous 70-mm period epic decants extra-virgin snake oil of the highest order.
In a far more subtle fashion, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva give an octogenarian master class in acting. Michael Haneke, best known for visions of human cruelty, gears down with a dire, delicate chamber piece about an aged couple facing their mortality in a Paris apartment. It won the Palme d’Or in Cannes and will likely lead the Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film.
5. The Hunt and Beyond the Hills
I’m calling a two-way tie between these European dramas about intolerance, which (like Amour) I haven’t seen since Cannes. Directed by Denmark’s Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration), Mads Mikkelsen gives an intense, finely calibrated performance in The Hunt, as a divorced man whose life is ruined after a young girl falsely accuses him of sexual abuse. And in Beyond the Hills, Romania’s Cristian Mungiu tells a horrific but true story of an exorcism performed on a young woman who tries to liberate a nun from a monastery.
6. Silver Linings Playbook
Football, mental illness, dance and romance mix with Altman-esque chaos in an off-kilter crowd pleaser from David O. Russell. Bradley Cooper is pitch-perfect as an ex-mental patient who goes off his meds and moves back home to an OCD dad played by De Niro. Jennifer Lawrence steals the movie so deftly we don’t even realize we’re watching a romantic comedy until we’re hooked by the plot’s Hail Mary pass.
7. Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tom Ungerer Story
A documentary portrait of the artist as an old man tracks him from his origins as a Nazi-scarred child in Alsace through his various American lives as magazine illustrator, best-selling children’s author, anti-war propagandist and S&M freak. Computer graphics bring his subversive art magically to life.
The documentary camera goes where it’s never gone before in this action painting that takes us into a churning, real-time whorl of fish, men, birds and water from the deck-level POV of a fishing boat at sea. This documentary views industrial slaughter with ferocious intimacy. It also batters the optic nerve with dizzying syncopations of light and dark. So it’s hard to watch, but equally hard to forget.
9. Anna Karenina
Reunited with director Joe Wright (Atonement), and his adoring gaze, a radiant Keira Knightley brings more depth to Tolstoy’s heroine than you would ever expect. An ingenious adaptation, scripted by Tom Stoppard, frames lush visuals with a trompe l’oeil theatrical setting that, has trains thundering across a proscenium stage.
Quebec writer-director Kim Nguyen spent a decade bringing this harrowing drama of African child soldiers to the screen. Shot in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it’s the tale of a pregnant 14-year-old girl (Rachel Mwanza) who is forced to kill her parents and become a child soldier. Nguyen’s camera shies away from depicting atrocities, finding moments of tenderness and humour in a story of authentic horror. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, September 21, 2012 at 1:26 PM - 0 Comments
Sometimes you want to close your eyes. Art is not always an easy ride, for one reason or another. In the aftermath of the Toronto International Film Festival, still feeling the retinal burn, we look around to see that suddenly it’s fall and three acclaimed films that lit up TIFF are now opening commercially—one American, two Canadian. Each comes with a challenge. The Master, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman as a cult leader and Joaquin Phoenix as his tormented acolyte, is close to two-and-a-half hours long. Powered by the white-hot combustion of two great actors at the top of their game, it more than earns its length, but many viewers will come out of the theatre shaking their heads, asking “WTF was that?” Laurence Anyways, the third feature from 23-year-old Quebec wunderkind, is a epic tale of a relationship between and man and a woman that is tested when the man decides become a woman. It’s almost three hours long, and pushes our patience with a dazzling virtuosity that ventures into the red zone of auteur indulgence. Rebelle, a more modest drama from a Quebec director, is the story of a pregnant teenage African girl who has been forced to shoot her parents, endure rape, and become a child soldier. Not exactly a date movie. But most of the atrocities occur off camera, as the child’s harrowing odyssey becomes a journey out of horror into innocence—it’s far more palatable than it sounds. Rebelle is Canada’s official Oscar entry for best foreign language film, and it’s a worthy candidate.
All three films are audacious and highly original: these are movies we haven’t seen before. Some thoughts . . .
The Master, perhaps the most hotly anticipated movie at TIFF, is Paul Thomas Anderson’s first feature in five years. With his previous film, There Will Be Blood, Daniel Day-Lewis won the Oscar for his portrayal of ruthless oilman carving an empire out of the ground at the dawn of the 20th century. The Master bears some resemblance to it. It’s another period epic about an American megalomaniac with a streak of Citizen Kane, but in this case he’s selling snake oil rather than fossil fuel. And while There Will Be Blood is a melodrama that steams along with locomotive linearity, The Master is a digressive cruise that messes with our heads—the same way Lancaster Dodd, the cult leader played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, plays mind games with his impressionable protegé, Freddie Quell, a Second World War veteran played by Joaquin Phoenix. Personally, I wasn’t as fond of There Will Be Blood as most critics. I found it hard to overcome my allergy to Day-Lewis’s monstrously showy performance. Not that there’s anything modest about the powerhouse performances delivered by Hoffman and Phoenix in The Master, who enact what amounts to a gladiatorial duel between the ego and the id respectively. But their work is utterly convincing and mannerism-free. And unlike Day-Lewis, who put on a virtual one-man show (pace Paul Dano), this film offers a rare example of two bravura performances joined at the hip. I don’t know how they’ll handle the Oscar nominations. Phoenix has a slightly larger part, and anchors the story’s point of view, but these are two lead performances that can’t be separated—which is why they shared the best actor prize at the Venice Film Festival.
The Master is a masterful character study. Phoenix plays a mentally unstable war vet who’s as dangerous and volatile as the homemade hootch that he spikes with gasoline. He’s seething with pent-up desire and unexplained frustration. Stuff happened during the war, and there’s girl who mattered somewhere in his past. After the war he becomes a portrait photographer in a department store, a job that ends badly when he flies into a rage and beats up a customer. Quell’s life changes in San Francisco when he wanders onto a ship bound for New York, a floating wedding party commanded by Dodd, whose daughter is getting married. The messianic founder of a movement that resembles Scientology, Dodd takes Quell under his wing, recognizing a human wreck that he can repair and make his own. He submits his recruit to a gruelling series of therapeutic interrogations, a ritual called “processing,” not unlike what Scientology calls “auditing.” Quell, the reckless skeptic, becomes an ardent acolyte, but he remains a loose cannon; there’s no telling what might set him off from one moment to the next. The two men develop a strange father-son bond laced with a homoerotic frisson. They’re not quite Oliver Reed and Alan Bates in Women in Love, but they do get on the ground and wrestle.
The Master is shaping up to be this year’s Tree of Life. Its story is far more straightforward and accessible, not to mention visceral, than the poetics of Terrence Malick. But like Malick’s epic, this is a movie that’s not afraid to baffle us. And it could have an equally polarizing effect, finding champions among film critics who embrace its double-black-diamond challenge, while leaving audiences scratching their heads. When I walked out of the theatre, I honestly didn’t know what to think. But the movie sits well in the imagination, burning on with a radioactive half-life. It’s mystery is the productive kind that pulls you back in. Like The Tree of Life, or Melancholia by Lars Von Trier, it’s a film I’m already dying to see again.
Laurence Anyways is a film I need to see again, though the prospect is less exciting. After screening it at Cannes last May, my memory of it has receded like a mirage, and couldn’t find three hours to spare during TIFF for a refresher course. This is what I remember: it’s full of brilliance, and could stand be a little less brilliant. With his third feature, Xavier Dolan has gone beyond proving he has talent to burn. Now he has to learn how to reign it in. After his semi-autobiographical tour de force, I Killed My Mother, and the impressionist watercolour of Heartbeats, with his third feature Dolan attacks a broader canvas with this sprawling portrait of a passionate relationship that runs into an impossible hurdle. What do you do when your boyfriend wants to become a woman? This is bold new ground for movie romance, something that Hollywood could turn into a godawful high-concept comedy. In Dolan’s hands, it makes for an intense yet credible drama, driven by a pair of superb performances.
A nuanced Melvil Poupaud plays Laurence, a university professor who gradually ventures out of the transsexual closet; a tempestuous Suzanne Clément co-stars as Fred, the love of his life, whose loyalty undergoes a test more daunting than mere infidelity. What has stuck with me, months after seeing the film, is that its tangential, looping narrative was more elaborate than necessary: it did not need to be so long. Most films that screen in competition in Cannes exceed two hours, so who can blame an aspiring young auteur for believing that anything less than that might disqualify him as a heavyweight contender. But it’s dangerous to make movies for festivals instead of audiences. When Dolan accepted the prize for best Canadian feature at TIFF, shaking with emotion, after apologizing to those who sat still for his film, he effusively thanked his producer and declared his love for her. But she would have done him, their movie and the audience a favour if she had not indulged his every desire. Before we vote our critics awards in December, I will give try to give Dolan the benefit of the doubt and see his movie a second time. But at this point I feel TIFF’s prize for best Canadian feature should have gone to Sarah Polley’s masterful docu-memoir Stories We Tell, or possibly Rebelle . . .
Rebelle (War Witch) is a powerful, compact, drama from another Montreal writer-director, Kim Nguyen, who spent a year bringing it to the screen. Komona (Rachel Mwanza) is a pregnant 14-year-old who tells her story to her unborn child in flashbacks, beginning with her abduction at age 12 by rebel forces, who invade her village and force her to kill her parents. Komona is put through a brutal boot camp in the jungle, trained as a child soldier, and intoxicated with a milky sap from a hallucinogenic plant. After her comrades are decimated in a battle with government troops, her miraculous survival convinces the rebel chief that Komona has powers of sorcery. Great Tiger (Mizinga Mwinga), the rebel leader, proclaims her his war witch. She, meanwhile, finds both an ally and a suitor in a fellow child soldier named Magician (Serge Kanyinda). Together they embark on a journey out of of the heart of darkness, and find some surprising moments of sweetness and light.
Nguyen shot the film entirely in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he captures both beauty and authenticity in a landscape that he populates with ghosts. The director discovered his star, Mwanza, in the streets, a raw talent who won best actress prizes at the Berlin and TriBeCa film festivals. She’s a quietly forceful and convincing presence.
Ngyuen says he shot the movie “as though only the present moment was real. My actors were not allowed to read the screenplay before the shoot, and we shot the film in sequence. In this way, the actors never knew what was going to happen to their characters the next day.”
Between the resolute performance of his young discovery and the verité mix of magic and realism, Rebelle has obvious parallels to Beasts of the Southern Wild, starring six-year-old dynamo Quvenzhané Wallis. It’s an extraordinary year when two girls with no acting experience—an African American from Louisiana and an African from the Congo—end up starring as resilient wilderness survivors in two underdog films backed by Oscar campaigns.
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, September 18, 2012 at 7:28 AM - 0 Comments
Video: Click here to view Brian D. Johnson’s interview with Spike Lee.
Just when you thought there was nothing more to know about Michael Jackson, Spike Lee‘s Bad 25 arrives as a revelation, and an unexpected pleasure. The made-for-TV doc, which premiered at TIFF, was commissioned by a record label to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Bad, Michael Jackson’s follow-up album to his mega hit Thriller. Due for broadcast by ABC in November, the film is tied to this week’s re-release of Bad, which comes with a payload of remastered and unreleased tracks. Given that kind of marketing agenda, you have to wonder: how good could it be? But Lee, who moves between dramas and documentaries with a virtuosity unmatched by anyone other than Martin Scorsese, had his own agenda: to reclaim the genius of an artist whose work has been eclipsed by a tabloid narrative. “That’s why this film is out there,” Lee told me in an interview on the weekend. “Just focus on the man’s art, focus on his creative process.”
Lee succeeds brilliantly. Drilling much deeper into Jackson’s legacy than Kenny Ortega’s 2009 documentary This Is It, his film unearths a myriad of detail about Jackson’s music, influences and methods—along with juicy trivia, notably a story of a testy summit between the singer and his rival Prince. Lee explores the making of Bad track-by-track, weaving rich archival footage with a gallery of talking heads that includes musicians, choreographers, confidants—and luminaries who include Martin Scorsese, Justin Bieber, Kanye West, Mariah Carey, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Wonder and Cee Lo Green. The 1987 album was Jackson’s follow-up to Thriller, the highest selling album of all time. It had then sold about 40 million copies but would go on to sell 100,000. “Everywhere Michael went he had a red sharpie,” says Lee. “He’d write on mirrors: ‘100 million.’ He wanted Bad to double the success of Thriller.” Jackson never reached that mark, but Bad would become the first album in history to spawn five consecutive number-one singles.
By Brian D. Johnson - Sunday, September 16, 2012 at 3:45 PM - 0 Comments
Silver Linings Playbook, an off-kilter comedy by David O. Russell (Three Kings), has been crowned the most popular film at TIFF—winning the Blackberry People’s Choice Award, voted by an online ballot of audience members. The prize was announced at an awards brunch today, the final day of the festival, along with a string of other prizes. TIFF, unlike Cannes, doesn’t host an international competition, but a jury does award cash prizes for Canadian films, and the festival’s audience poll has often been a predictor of Oscar success. Previous People’s Choice winners include American Beauty, Slumdog Millionaire and The King’s Speech. Even without this award, Silver Linings Playbook—which features dynamite performances from Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence—appeared to be Oscar bound, especially with Harvey Weinstein driving its campaign
TIFF’s $30,000 prize for best Canadian feature went to Laurence Anyways, the epic tale of a romance that’s derailed by the man’s transsexual awakening. The third feature directed by Quebec wunderkind Xavier Dolan, it’s virtuosic feat of filmmaking though some viewers, myself included, found its running time of almost three hours to be unjustified. Sarah Polley’s acclaimed memoir doc, Stories We Tell, was considered the front-runner.
In accepting his award, Dolan, who was shaking with emotion, said “I’m honestly surprised. At one point I thought this film would be forgotten.” Acknowledging the challenges of his movie, he said, “It’s as scary for people to go see it as it was for us to do it.” And as he embraced producer Lyse Lafontaine, praising her largesse and declaring his love for her, Dolan said, “Your balls are bigger than mine.”
The TIFF Canadian jury, meanwhile, split the prize for best Canadian feature debut between Brandon Cronenberg’s Antiviral and Jason Buxton’s Blackbird. TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey said that the prize would doubled so that each filmmaker would receive the full purse of $15,000.
Bailey, meanwhile, made a social-media booboo with a tweet congratulating Silver Linings Playbook director David O. Russell that leaked through the Twitterverse just as we were sitting down to the awards brunch. That’s ironic considering that Blackberry sponsors the award, and that the filmmakers will receive a Blackberry Playbook. The first runner-up for the audience award was Ben Affleck’s wildly entertaining, if irresponsible, Argo, about the C.I.A./Hollywood rescue of six Americans hiding in the Canadian embassy during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. (It had more CanCon than most Canadian movies, and the local audience ate it up, but it would have been perverse if Canadians awarded a fiction that robs credit from Our Man in Tehran, Ken Taylor.) The People’s Choice runner up was Eran Riklis’ Zaytoun, an unlikely road movie about a Palestinian boy and a downed Israeli fighter pilot, both trying to get back “home” through war-torn Lebanon in 1982.
As for Silver Linings Playbook, it was also one of my top 10 faves of the festival. Here’s what I wrote about it: “Football, mental illness, dance and romance mix with Altman-esque chaos in an off-kilter crowd pleaser from David O. Russell. Bradley Cooper is pitch-perfect as an ex-mental patient who goes off his meds and moves back home to an OCD dad played by De Niro. Jennifer Lawrence steals the movie so deftly we don’t even realize we’re watching a romantic comedy until we’re hooked by the plot’s Hail Mary pass.”
Cooper meanwhile was the subject of a pre-festival piece I wrote for the magazine.
For the full list of TIFF awards click here.
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, September 13, 2012 at 11:36 PM - 0 Comments
The juggernaut is winding down. Proof of that came as early as Tuesday when TIFF CEO Piers Handling made a Freudian slip while introducing the Inescapable gala saying, “We’re looking forward to the last two days of the festival.” Maybe he misspoke, or I misheard and he said “last few days.” Either way, there were still five days left to go. But TIFF peaks early. The studios fly in American journalists for press junkets on the opening weekend, and by Wednesday the crowds have thinned. The movies will continue to play until Sunday, but by now it’s time to take stock.
We’ve seen some strong films—and too many mediocre ones that had no business being at this festival, any festival, except to stick mid-level stars like Greg Kinnear on a red carpet. I won’t waste your time with them. But among the heavyweight American dramas, two movies, The Master and Cloud Atlas, loomed largest. And they present polar opposites of narrative bravado. Shot on the lush retro format of 70 mm film by Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master’s story of a Second World War veteran (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls under the spell of a Scientology-like cult leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is an epic storm of emotion. Cloud Atlas, which splices and dices David Mitchell’s novel, is a Rubiks’s Cube of interlocking stories spanning a half dozen centuries and worlds. It’s a conceptual stunt, $100-million toy that recycles a blockbuster bin of genre tropes from films that range from The Matrix, Blade Runner, Avatar and The Lord of the Rings.
Powered by a raging duel of two terrifyingly good actors, The Master is all about character; Cloud Atlas is all about plot, an intricate gizmo of plot that’s constructed as a Transformer-like special effect. But here’s the crucial difference between the artistic ambitions of the two films: The Master examines the snake oil, shakes it up and spills it all around, leaving us disturbed and confused, infected with mystery and doubt; Cloud Atlas traffics in snake oil, drilling us with the same kind of ideological mantra about freedom, enslavement, and heroic consciousness that made movies like The Matrix and Inception much dumber than they pretended to be. Paul Thomas Anderson has made a movie about a bogus religion. The directing trio behind Cloud Atlas—Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana (formerly Larry) Wachowski—have made a religious movie. I’m still thinking about The Master and am keen to see it again; once was enough for Cloud Atlas.
The so-called real world, meanwhile, held its own at TIFF in what turned out to be an exceptional festival for documentaries. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 6:59 PM - 0 Comments
One of the most buzzed about films at TIFF is a documentary featuring real-life Indonesian death squad leaders
Walking around TIFF with a head full of important thoughts about important movies—from The Master to Cloud Atlas—I was trying to carve out some time to write about them today when I decided to squeeze in another movie: The Act of Killing. It’s one of the most buzzed about films at TIFF and now I know why. It’s hard to believe what I’ve seen and I’m still reeling from it. To say it’s a documentary about the death squads responsible for the genocide of over one million Indonesians from 1965-66 does not begin to describe it. A film within a film, it shows the leaders of the death squads, a merry cabal of gangsters, proudly re-enacting their crimes for the camera, boasting of killing and torture, and staging surreal costume pageants to celebrate their historic role as mass murderers. After seeing a preview of the movie, Werner Herzog said, “I have not seen a film as powerful, surreal and frightening in at least a decade.” I can’t imagine what Herzog could have seen over a decade ago that would trump it, but then he also said: “It is unprecedented in the history of cinema.”
Herzog and Errol Morris both signed on as executive producers after The Act of Killing was made. As two of the world’s leading documentary makers, they clearly recognized that this documentary goes where no film has gone before—even if it does echo the theme of Standard Operating Procedure, Morris’s investigation into the performance-art torture of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib. In this case, we’re not talking souvenir snapshots. The killers at the heart of the story throw themselves into re-staging their crimes with breathtaking bravado on a grand scale. They’re led by Anwar Congo, a gangster who graduated from scalping movie tickets to leading anti-communist death squads in the 1960s. He brags of killing hundreds of so-called communists with his his own hands. “At first we beat them to death and there was too much blood,” he says, as he proceeds to demonstrate his preferred tool of mass execution—a wire garotte torqued with a wooden handle.
Citing names like Pacino, Brando and John Wayne, Anwar and his cronies says they were inspired by Hollywood gangster films and westerns, the ones they sold tickets to on the black market. To stage their re-enactments, they mimic myriad genres ranging from film noir to Bollywood-like musical extravaganzas. They get into costume, slather on make-up, and engage in elaborate discussions how best to play their roles. One boasts about raping 14-year-old girls. In one scene, they re-enact the rape and killing of women and children and burn down a village, then wonder why the women and children are still weeping after the cameras stop rolling. Shockingly, these killers are folk heroes in their own country, still tied to the current government by powerful and popular paramilitary organizations. They have never been brought to justice, and we see their exploits celebrated on an Indonesian TV show by a smiling female host.
The Act of Killing is beyond belief. It’s as if Hitler and his accomplices survived then got together to re-enact their favorite scenes from the Holocaust on camera, for a documentary crew intent on exposing the horror. Their triumphant reminiscence is the direct opposite of the apartheid confessions invited by South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Healing and penance in this case are not even on the agenda. Nevertheless, the men do slip into debates about the wisdom of revealing so much truth as they romance their mythology. When one is asked if he’s not worried about being hauled before the International Court at the Hague on charges of war crimes, he shrugs and says he would welcome the fame it would bring. However, Anwar Congo, the film’s central character, is more circumspect. He’s gradually drawn into some soul-searching over the arc of the narrative. He’s quietly charismatic. He tries to put the past behind him with alcohol, drugs, and dancing. But as he portrays torture and murder victims in the re-enactments with painstaking detail, trying to imagine their pain, the weight of buried guilt gradually begins to crack his polished veneer. By the end, we start to feel empathy for him, which is perhaps the most disturbing thing of all.
The Act of Killing is directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, a Texan-born, Harvard-educated filmmaker, who has spent a decade researching and shooting Indonesia. He began by interviewing the victims, which he found was a far more dangerous endeavor than talking to the killers. The film was co-directed by Christine Cynn, who worked with him on The Globalization Tapes (2003), and by an Indonesian director who is listed as Anonymous for his own safety.
We wonder if films can change the world. This one is at least bound to have a devastating impact.
By Brian D. Johnson - Monday, September 10, 2012 at 9:32 AM - 0 Comments
Recovered memories from a lost weekend at the festival
Recovered memories from opening weekend at the Toronto International Flying Circus of Film. It’s like trying to recall a fever dream . . . Talking radical politics with Robert Redford as he eats potato chips . . . Watching hometown sweetheart Rachel McAdams vanish down the rabbit hole of Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder, as she searches for her lost role in an Oklahoma field with Ben Affleck . . . Then seeing her as an executive femme fatale planting a kiss on Naomi Rapace in Brian De Palma’s passionless Passion . . . Interviewing Monty Python’s Terry Jones, and having to fill in the blanks when he doesn’t have the answers . . . watching Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix give an acting master class in The Master.
Sanity was last seen at 9 a.m. Saturday as I joined a packed press screening of The Master. Had to skip the Ryan Gosling movie, The Place Beyond the Pines, which was showing at the same time. Everyone Who’s Anyone in Hollywood wants an opening weekend slot at TIFF. The result is the scheduling equivalent to overlapping dialogue in an Altman film. I chose The Master because it was buzzed as the Second Coming of Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood). And sure enough, that day it wins awards for acting and direction in Venice—as well as the runner-up Silver Lion for best picture, only because the jury wasn’t allowed to give it two prizes plus the Golden Lion.
The Master is, well, masterful. And amazing. There’s an Emperor’s New Clothes quality to the epic narrative, as if Captain Anderson is conjuring a cinematic feat no less cult-like than the Scientology-like religion created by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in the film. But the period visuals and the performances are immensely charismatic. Playing Dodd’s alcoholic acolyte, Joaquin Phoenix is so good it’s scary. After the actor’s meta exile as a bearded hip-hop prophet, he’s back in the game, yet his performance as a deranged veteran of the Second World War, his volatile peformance has the same train-wreck momentum that made us concerned for his sanity in I’m Still Here. Though this time, it’s in a good way. Together he and Hoffman are like contestants in an Ultimate Fighting match staged by the Actors’ Studio. As the guru wears down the disciple in bouts of intense psychodrama, Phoenix has a vein bulging from his forehead that looks like it might explode. Continue…
By Andrew Tolson - Saturday, September 8, 2012 at 4:07 PM - 0 Comments
Terry Jones, one of the comedic geniuses behind the legendary Monty Python, was at TIFF to talk about his involvement in Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman. So, what do you do when you have one minute for a photo shoot?
When it’s Terry Jones, you ask him to act natural …
By Kara Dillon - Saturday, September 8, 2012 at 8:15 AM - 0 Comments
TIFF, Sept. 7: One day, three red carpets,18 photos with more to come
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, September 7, 2012 at 8:38 PM - 0 Comments
A thriller about the 1980 escape of six Americans from the Canadian embassy in Tehran lands with uncanny timing
On Day 2 of TIFF, movies are spinning like wheels in a slot machine and producing some startling match-ups. At last night’s party hosted by the Toronto Film Critics Association I tried to keep my end up a conversation with the Globe and Mail‘s Johanna Schneller and the Movie Network’s Teri Hart, who were amazed at the number of hand jobs they’d seen in movies at the festival. Between them, they’ve counted four, including scenes in The Master and Picture Day, which I haven’t seen yet. But I’ve witnessed a couple—one in Hyde Park on Hudson that’s powerful enough to the rock a parked car occupied by the polio-hobbled Franklin D. Roosevelt (Bill Murray); and in The Sessions, during a lesson from a sex therapist (Helen Hunt) treating a man paralyzed by childhood polio. Two hand-job polio movies in one festival—what are the odds? Then again, as I noted in an earlier blog, this is also a festival with two films about aging musicians losing their grip, A Late Quartet and Quartet.
In other news, tonight actor-director Ben Affleck premieres Argo, the stranger-than-fiction story of a fake Canadian sci-fi movie that was cooked up as a cover to facilitate 1980′s Great Escape of six Americans hiding in Iran’s Canadian embassy. Even stranger, just hours before the premiere Canada announced that it has closed that very same embassy in Tehran.
I saw Argo last night. It tells an extraordinary story about an operation that the C.I.A. had to keep under wraps for two decades, while then-Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor received all the credit. It starts as a comedy that unfolds like a real-life Wag the Dog, with a priceless, Oscar-worthy performance by Alan Arkin as the Hollywood producer who mounts the fake movie, lying through his teeth in a town where lies are hard currency. But then it morphs into a white-knuckled thriller, which—not unlike Apollo 13—keeps us on the edge even though we know the ending in advance.
The movie’s pulse is juiced by a lot of obvious fictional embellishment. It’s a caper movie, not a docudrama, which brings the Hollywood fakery of the original ruse full circle. It’s a good ride. Starring as the heroic C.I.A. officer, Tony Mendez, a bearded Ben Affleck keeps his head down and delivers a tight, modest performance. But as a director he’s impressive, expanding on the promise he showed in Gone Baby Gone and The Town. He’s adopted a much lighter style for Argo, with a zippy curve-ball narrative spins from wit to suspense. It could be this year’s Moneyball.
The film, meanwhile, is jammed with references that will tickle local audiences, ranging from the observational detail that Canadians don’t pronounce the second ‘t’ in ‘Toronto’ to a mention of the now-defunct Canadian Film Development Corporation—which financed more than its share of tax-shelter movies that were scams of one sort or another. There’s far more Cancon in this Hollywood picture than the two officially Canadian movies I saw today, both stories of foreign characters in foreign settings—Midnight’s Children (set in India) and Rebelle (set in Africa).
With its flamboyant mix of Canadiana and Hollywood self-satire, Argo would have made an ideal opening night film for TIFF. Looper, the sci-action movie that did kick off the festival, was an adequate choice but nowhere near as ironically appropriate. I don’t know what happened behind the scenes. But one can only assume that Warner Bros. did not want that somewhat stigmatized opening night slot, and opted for the hotter showcase of Friday night.
By macleans.ca - Friday, September 7, 2012 at 5:00 PM - 0 Comments
Jessica Allen and Brian D Johnson are our stars at TIFF. We’re keeping track of them here via Twitter
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By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 11:40 PM - 0 Comments
The famously good-looking Hollywood star is out to prove he’s a serious actor, too
From the first time he caught our eye, as “Sack” Lodge, the Ivy League jerk engaged to Rachel McAdams in Wedding Crashers (2005), Bradley Cooper seemed too good-looking for his own good. Between the hubris-eating grin and the laser intensity of those blue eyes, he was all too convincing as a football-mad frat boy gloating over his superior genes. Since then, Cooper has gone on to play more likeable men—most famously, Phil, the alpha male leading the blackout brigade of losers in the two Hangover comedies, which have grossed $2 billion. And last year he was annointed People’s sexiest man alive. Neither that dubious honour nor the Hangover windfall have done much to burnish Cooper’s image as a serious actor. But lately he has seemed bent on changing that.
For a Hollywood hunk, playing a freak of nature may seem like a stretch, but this month the 37-year-old actor fulfilled a childhood dream—and completed his Actor’s Studio Drama School master’s thesis for New York University—by starring in an acclaimed stage production of David Merrick’s The Elephant Man at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. (When he was 12, Cooper’s father gave him a video of David Lynch’s film of the play: it made him weep.) “I felt such a connection,” he told
The New Yorker. “Like, no one’s skull is symmetrical. Mine is all over the place . . . and my one hip’s higher than the other.”
While Cooper may have a hard time convincing the world that he’s deformed, he never seems entirely on the level. He exudes confidence with a megawatt charm that doesn’t exactly inspire trust. Which is what makes him such an intriguing screen presence. And as he expands his range in a prolific string of movie roles, he seems determined to scuff up his image. In the car-chase action comedy Hit and Run, which opened last week, Cooper is almost unrecognizable as a nasty, blond-dreadlocked gangster on a mission of vengeance. And in The Words, opening next week, he stars as a struggling writer who becomes a bestselling author after stumbling across a lost manuscript and taking credit for a novel he didn’t write.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 9:21 PM - 0 Comments
Slideshow of the sideshow on the red carpet at opening night at the Toronto Film Festival