The King's Speech (Tom Hooper) 49 - Crowd-pleasing and bound for Oscar glory, but it runs out of steam quickly. The first hour is charming, touching and funny. The second is overly important, and entirely too willing to turn the King we were struggling to know into a symbol. Firth's performance never evolves beyond a gimmick. Rush's best moments all come early on, but he's surely a frontrunner for awards. Still, that first hour is good, with lots of awkward comedy and very British charm.
What I Most Want (Delfina Castagnino) 36 – This ode to female friendship is seventy-odd minutes long, with many of them taken up with interminable, poorly framed shots. It’s something like a female-driven Old Joy, but that overstates its quality or ambition. It really only grows interesting in its final reel, as it becomes obvious that the two girls’ concerns in life are being contrasted. Just as tension begins to emerge between the two, the film ends. It’s so minor that it requires expert precision to be worthwhile, but first-time feature filmmaker Castagnino feels like a hack.
Boxing Gym (Frederick Wiseman) 57 – This unassuming observational documentary set in a Texas boxing gym is surely the most consistently entertaining thing that I’ve seen at the festival thus far. Wiseman doesn’t particularly deviate from his well-worn template here, but the chosen subject matter ensures that there is no bureaucracy to wade through, so no shot wears out its welcome. There’s a realization here that everyone shown on camera has a story and everyone has a unique motivation for being at the gym. Wiseman’s approach respects that, and therefore respects the viewer’s intelligence. The ringside philosophy picked up along the way (e.g. “You don’t pay your dues, you ain’t get shit.”) enhances the film considerably, although brazenly topical moments involving the Virginia Tech shootings or tech millionaire Richard Garriot seemed like odd distractions.
Armadillo (Janus Metz) 54 – Not especially impressive content-wise, but this documentary about the Afghanistan invasion probably looks more like a fictional feature than any documentary since Zoo. It’s extremely well-shot. It wrings its hands with predictable ambivalence over the raging boners that the young troops have for combat. When they finally get a taste of battle, the footage that’s been captured is rather extraordinary… to the point that some level of editorial trickery must have been involved. A last-minute questioning of the troops’ action under the gun recalls a similar debate in The Tillman Story.
Love Crime (Alain Corneau) 56 – Starting out as a witty comedy about workplace rivalries, this morphs into something a lot more plot-driven in its second half. The scenes in which Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier threaten each other are terrific. I largely lost interest as predictable the aftermath of a mid-film plot twist played out, though. Corneau’s style here is appealing and stands at a mild remove from the action, which makes sense in a story filled with such startling manipulations.
Break Up Club (Barbara Wong) 26 – I’m probably overrating this. It keeps rebooting itself, as it tells the story of a young Hong Kong couple’s on-again, off-again relationship. It moves from personal film diary, to bizarre meta-film in which characters document their own break-up stories, into a glossy and conventional soap opera format. None of these work particularly well, and all of them are undercut by a uniformly inadequate cast. Festival schedule filler all the way… I won’t remember this in a year.
Bunraku (Guy Moshe) 20 – You know a fight scene sucks when it can’t prompt a reaction from a TIFF Midnight Madness crowd. Three early fight scenes in a row from the overlong Bunraku failed to rouse much of anything at tonight’s screening. This is really dire stuff that will probably find some defenders due to its visual style, which combines German expressionism with day-glow Japanese stereotypes. My eyes mostly felt that director Moshe never met a color palette that he didn’t like. The performances are extremely bad, especially in the case of Josh Harnett, who is supposed to be some sort of Eastwood-channeling Western badass. What’s the point of endless visual invention if you are recycling a tired, aggressively boring plot?