The Toronto International Film Festival is now behind us for another year. Overall, I wasn’t as enthralled this year as I was last year with the films. I saw a couple excellent films, several good films and one real stinker. Sadly, because I ended up with flu earlier in the week and was relegated to bed for a day, I had to miss Korean, Lee Myung-se’s movie, M. Hopefully, with Reel Asian Film Festival just around the corner (in mid-November), it will show there.
Anyway, on to this year’s films ….
Directed by Canadian Francois Girard, Silk is based on a novel by Alessandro Baricco and is essentially a love triangle
between a 19th century silkworm smuggler (played by Michael Pitt), his wife (the ever-pretty Keira Knightley) and the concubine of a baron (Sei Ashina). While the story is, frankly, terribly predictable, Alain Dostie’s cinematography makes it all worthwhile. The film, picture-wise, is gushingly gorgeous in a Memoirs of a Geisha fashion, even though the film is more The Last Samurai but with silkworms … and just as dull. For the teary love story, however, and more so the simply beauty of what Girard and Dostie set to film, my rating 6 out of 10.
I’m Not There
Todd Hayes had a great movie in Far From Heaven, and I wanted to say that before reviewing his latest effort, I’m Not There. This film is apparently a biography on the life and times of Bob Dylan and it contains gobs of his music. Piers Handling, Director & CEO of the Toronto International Film Fest Group, gushed at the premier I attended about how it will “revolutionize how biopics are made”. Well, if the future of biopics is about dullness, tedious boredom and utter confusion, he truly has hit the nail on the head as this film has this in spades. Utterly forgettable save the performance of Cate Blanchett as one of the Dylan incarnations (Oscar worth perhaps?). And what the hell was Richard Gere doing with his version of Dylan in this mess? A film for strung out artsy-fartsy folk and the film critics who chill with them. To give Cate her due, my rating 3 out of 10.
Death Defying Acts
Directed by Aussie Gillian Armstrong, who was on hand to give us a chat about the film before the screening, Death Defying Acts gives us the fictional story of a run-in Harry Houdini (played by Guy Pearce) had with a Scottish con artist, Mary Macgregor (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones) and her daughter, Benji. Harry has come to Edinburgh to perform his tricks and has set a challenge to all seers and clairvoyants, worth $10,000, if they can confirm the last words spoke by his mother on her death bed. Mary sees dollars signs and is confident she can con Harry out of the money. What follows is pretty standard fare but it is done very refreshingly, I thought, and I was captured by what is at heart a love story masquerading as a drama-thriller. Pearce and Zeta-Jones are bang-on, which certainly helps. The cinematography by Harris Zambarloukos is rich and velvety and gorgeous, perfect for the film. While Harry Houdini can’t defy death in the end (which had some in the audience crying even!), the story of his amazing skills as a magician continue to feed us to this day, even when fictionalized. My rating 8 out of 10.
Directed by Shinji Aoyama, Sad Vacation centres on Kenji, who, abandoned by his mother, Chiyoko, when a wee lad, gets by in the employ of the yakuza until he decides to care for an orphaned Chinese boy he comes across when smuggling illegal immigrants. That move leads to the death of his partner in the business and his need to hide. He ends up a driver chauffeuring bar hostesses to and from their homes. And then fate intercedes; later summed up by one character in that ‘we are all fated to meet the people we meet’. On one drive, he happens to come across his mother, now remarried with a son and the proprietor of a successful transport company. It is the relationship of mother and son, and brother to half-brother which then consumes the remainder of the film, with startling effect at the end. Despite his attempts to have his mother feel the abandonment he felt as a young boy, Chiyoko opts not to abandon Kenji again despite the cruelness he brought to her. And perhaps that’s what this movie is ultimately about: the depth of a mother’s love and forgiveness. I enjoyed this film despite its sad ending. My rating 7 out of 10.
Sukiyaki Western Django
If you want to talk about a director who knows how to work extremes, you should go no further than Japan’s Takashi Miike, who one year after giving us the strange, stark, quiet murder mystery Big Bang Love, Juvenile A (my review here) returns with this loud, funny, over-the-top take on the American cowboy western. The film centres on the fight for a town, rumored to have a buried treasure, and pits the “whites” and “reds” against each other in true War of the Roses’ fashion (the association here to Henry VI will be apparent when you see this movie). A drifter in true Clint Eastwood style arrives in town to save the poor townsfolk from these two marauding groups of samurai and set to right the various injustices meted out during their battle for the town. This is all done in a style I can only best describe as Moulin Rouge crossed with Kill Bill crossed with Couching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It is highly stylized complete with great costumes, much silliness in a Japanese game show way, nods to some of the classic cliches of westerns young and old, and even has Quentin Tarantino playing a key character. What else could you ask for?! If you’re after a western of a much different ilk with a marvelous blend of east meets west, saddle on up to this fabled tale. My rating 9 out of 10.
Son of Rambow
Son of Rambow is the name of the home movie two misfit British school lads start filming after they run into each other in the hallway of their school. There is Will, the only son of a family of strict religious folk who will not permit him to watch TV or associate with anyone outside their sect. And there is Lee Carter, the son of rich absentee parents who spends his time idolizing his older brother, raising hell in his school and trying to prepare a film for ScreenTest, a contest for up and coming film-makers. Directed by Garth Jennings, this film is a wonderful coming of age tale filled with lessons on friendship and family. It is fun, funny, eclectic, heartwarming and a little off centre and is certainly one of the finest films I’ve seen this year. My rating 9 out of 10.