Thursday, September 16, 2010

TIFF Capsules: Passion Play, Black Swan, 127 Hours and The Conspirator

My friend txt critic is completing his Toronto journey soon but he sent another batch of thoughts for your perusal. He starts by taking an against consensus stand.
By far the most loathed and eviscerated film of the festival, Mitch Glazer's brazenly out there, 20-years-in-the-works labor of love is extremely slow paced, unafraid to be laughed at for its sincerity and ridiculousness, and -- though I seem to be alone on this -- perpetually interesting. The plot basically boils down to "Mickey Rourke falls in love with circus-freak-with-giant-wings Megan Fox, and has to fight to protect her from violent gangster Bill Murray," so yes, it's silly, but I admired its audacity. Rourke is very very strong, Murray is always fun to watch, and... dare I say it? I thought Megan Fox was *gasp* pretty good (though, again, alone on this). Based on the response, though, who knows if this will ever see the light of day outside of the festival circuit. (B)
That is the sad thing about festivals, even if you're wise enough to mostly see films without release dates (I've never understood why people see things that will be out within in a few weeks) some of them will remain things that only you have ever seen.
Basically a rougher, sloppier, darker version of "Kick-Ass," James Gunn's homemade super 'heroes' flick has some moments of madcap dark humor, and a surprisingly solid central performance from Rainn Wilson, but it suffers from a severe imbalance of tone, bizarre flourishes that don't add up to much, and a perpetual mean-spiritedness that left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Ellen Page steals the movie with her childlike ADD energy and karate moves, but Liv Tyler and Kevin Bacon are squandered and seem like they wandered in from another movie. (C-)

Danny Boyle's true story of survival has been received raputurously on the festival circuit so far, but while I liked it overall, I can't really jump on the bandwagon of fervor. Boyle's energetic directorial style and a bravura physical performance from the normally boring James Franco go a long way towards keeping us involved; But at the end of the day, a guy with his arm pinned under a rock just isn't an inherently cinematic or compelling story, and the jittery editing and flashbacks and hallucinations -- while understandable on a conceptual level -- almost seem like a betrayal of the realities of the situation. Also, as good as Franco is, we never (or at least I never) feel like we know anything about this guy, or why we should have vested interest in his fate. That said, Boyle and Franco do keep us wrapped up in the goings-on, and there are about a half-dozen sequences (including the insanely intense climax) that are pretty remarkable... at least until the epilogue steps on the "uplifting" pedal a little too hard/disingenuously to try to push this into Slumdog territory. It's a solid effort, and will likely go over big with audiences, but I was only intermittently feeling it. (B / B-)
Interesting take. Especially in regards to the betrayal of a gut wrenching terrifying monotony of the experience as it must have been to live. I'm nervous about this one primarily because I thought Slumdog was only OK and it actively started annoying me when people wouldn't shut up about it. Will we see a repeat of that mass hysteria? And if so does that mean Boyle will get to do anything he wants from now on?

And finally txtcritic disputes the positive notices for Robert Redford's Oscar bait and joins many in loving Darren Aronofsky's latest.
Robert Redford's dull as dishwater History Channel re-enactment depicts the true but little known story of Mary Surratt, the mother of the accused collaborator of John Wilkes Booth in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. While it's admirable that Redford would like to teach us all about a oft-overlooked footnote in history, he sure as hell doesn't do much to make it engaging, even with a pretty fantastic cast including Robin Wright, James McAvoy, Tom Wilkinson (sporting ridiculous old-timey mutton chops) and Kevin Kline. History nuts may be enraptured, but as an actual movie, it never breaks out of its dry, dusty courtroom procedural paramaters. All I could think of during the film (especially with the presence of Tom Wilkinson) was "John Adams" and the comparison is certainly not flattering. Blech. (C-)

I hate to pile on more advance hype, but Aronofsky's much-anticipated psychological ballet thriller is truly staggering. A tightly-wound examination of the obsessive quest for artistic perfection, the film packs in one staggering sequence after another, and never allows us to breathe easy or get comfortable. Simultaneously beautiful and grotesque, it'll likely offput as many as it seduces, but this is a movie that will still be held on a pedestal a decade or two down the line. The comparisons being made to "The Red Shoes" and "The Wrestler" are apt, but there are strong traces of "There Will Be Blood" in here as well, in regards to the extremes to which it burrows into its central character. Portman does easily her best work here, carrying the entire film on her shoulders, and Winona Ryder and Barbara Hershey are terrifying perfection. (A)
So... that's the first I'm hearing of someone really mentioning Noni. Could this be a comeback of sorts (I had assumed it was a teensy-tiny cameo since I'm purposefully not reading reviews I don't know one way or the other)? Since this film is not playing the New York Film Festival I will have to wait along with the rest of you until December 1st.

Come again?!? I can't have heard the release date correctly. I'm dying here.

Noni, Aronofsky, Natalie, and Barbara Hershey

Just for fun, here's what the Black Swan team wore to their big Canadian premiere. Mila Kunis did not attend.

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