Sunday, September 18, 2011

TIFF - Day 10

Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes)

This is definitely guilty of playing like “Shakespeare for Dummies” at times since Fiennes is trying as hard as humanly possible to make sure we can follow the plot here. News reports, captions, protest signs, and big bold titles are used to make characters’ relationships blindingly clear. Numerous action scenes are included, with violent gunfights and bloody knife brawls frequently staged. It’s as if the film has been conceived out of a prevailing fear that we might lose interest otherwise. The original play is about war, to be sure, but something about the shift to contemporary trappings makes some of this stuff seem a tad desperate. Nonetheless, most of the drama works very well. A long scene in which public sentiment is swayed toward and then away from Fiennes’ Coriolanus is genuinely stirring. Brian Cox’s attempts to find ethics in politics make for good drama. The highlight, without a doubt, is Vanessa Redgrave’s performance. As a mother who has groomed her son to be a noble soldier, she is an indomitable presence, and her closing monologue is a Shakespearean screen turn for the ages. Gerard Butler, predictably, is a deficit, but he’s mostly asked to serve as a punching bag.

Rating: 60/100

Peace, Love & Misunderstanding (Bruce Beresford)

This is a dopey generation gap comedy, in which three generations of women come to better appreciate one another as they spend a week or so in a hippie grandma’s Woodstock abode. The title is an apt description for what lies within this rather routine film. Beresford could make something like this in his sleep, and apparently does here. There are charms to be had (Fonda is initially engaging, until it becomes apparent she has no character to play, Elizabeth Olsen also has been given next to no character, but genuinely inhabits her role) Women, I think are the target audience here (there are several male butts on display, but no female nudity), which is fine, but it seems curious that the most inspired segment comes at the hands of the leading male character. Near the end of the film, a teen who is an aspiring documentary filmmaker debuts his first work. Suddenly the narrative elements of this very conventional work are reconfigured into Love in Woodstock, an experimental (if somewhat crude) film within the film that probably sheds more light on the rhythms and conflicts in these relationships than all of the script’s clichéd dialogue combined.

Rating: 42/100

Melancholia (Lars Von Trier)

Filled with gorgeous moments and wryly observed condemnations about those of us who pretend to be happy, this is a strong, second-tier von Trier effort. The much-discussed opening, in which planets seem to kiss and the world ends beautifully, sets a breathlessly romantic tone that is immediately given a challenge by the bulk of the film’s depressed handheld camerawork. While I am somewhat underwhelmed by the depth of ideas here (Woody Allen has played the same take on depression for laughs with arguably greater profundity… not that Lars isn’t after a few laughs here…), there is still a great deal to admire. The performances, not just from Cannes prize-winner Dunst, but from the entire ensemble, are excellent. The juxtaposition of intimacy and scale becomes bewildering in itself. Throughout, the attempt to achieve normalcy seems desperate, driving home the film’s thesis. The ending, which sees the image utterly wiped away, is perfect.

Rating: 76/100

The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies)

An adaptation of Rattigan’s play, I suppose, but Davies more than makes it his own. We can tell we’re in his territory when, before the credits even give way to image, we’ve already experienced a ticking clock, a persistent rainstorm, and the promise of a suicide. This is a real “movie movie”, in which kitsch lacquered in nostalgia somehow becomes almost overwhelmingly heartfelt. There are several sequences here that left me breathless. By chopping up Rattigan’s text, the film enhances the potency of what remains. These three pathetic characters are equally tragic, all cursed by a present tinged with too much nostalgia. The frankly carnal nature of the central drama keeps things from ever feeling too staid. Probably underrating this.

Rating: 79/100

Albert Nobbs (Rodrigo Garcia)

Albert Nobbs is “such a kind little man,” except that he’s a woman in disguise in this curio of a film. Glenn Close plays the titular character in an intensely interior manner that seems somewhat at odds with the superficial tone of the film at large. Any iota of intelligence that’s here can be found in her performance, but even still, it’s not really a film that’s aiming for intelligence. Take genders out of the equation here, and you’re left with a simple plot, worthy of a silent melodrama. There’s a strange resistance here to presenting Nobbs as a proto-feminist, which should probably be viewed as an asset. Strangely, though, Nobbs’ quest for money and survival becomes her defining characteristic, which would probably be more compelling if she were not so completely “soft in the head.” A strange film, anchored by a strange performance that’s so tightly contained that it scarcely counts as a double role.

Rating: 50/100

Kill List (Ben Wheatley)

Essentially a British variation on the Tarantino-scripted From Dusk Till Dawn, with little of the verve that made that something of a classic. A large part of the problem here is that Wheatley’s improvisations cannot possibly compare to Tarantino’s meticulously crafted speeches. What we end up with is a film that is one-third kitchen-sink drama, one-third hitman saga, and one-third a brush with the occult. These three segments flow into one another less than holistically (indeed, a late-breaking flashback montage tries to cobble it all together), making the final act’s left-field twist seem rather dumb. The only thing that sustains the trajectory is a slowly building sense of non-specific dread. Conceptually clever, and not terrible by any means, but not well-executed.

Rating: 49/100

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