Sunday, September 12, 2010

TIFF: Day 3 (Saturday 9/11)

Note: Click here to see the Metro Times version of this post, which features many photos I took through the day.

Woke up at 7am today to try and get more tickets—at TIFF, shows often go off sale when there are still some tickets left, and then those remaining tickets are released at 7am the day of the show. I already had tickets today for Little White Lies and It’s Kind of a Funny Story, but I was really hoping to add Biutiful (Javier Bardem drama by the director of Babel) and Never Let Me Go (adapted from the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro and starring Carey Mulligan & Keira Knightley). Struck out on Biutiful, nabbed a ticket for Never Let Me Go, then promptly went back to bed for three more hours.

My day then commenced with the revelation that the showers where I’m staying were temporarily out of commission, which meant no bathing for me today because I’m on a timetable. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this would be a powerful omen for how the rest of the day would go. After lunch and some writing at a cafĂ©, I headed to Roy Thomson Hall for the gala premiere of Little White Lies, a film I was really looking forward to. Directed by Guillaume Canet (who starred opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach and directed the great 2006 French thriller Tell No One), Marion Cotillard heads an all-star French cast on a weekend picnic outing of Parisian high society. I arrived at the premiere about thirty minutes before it was scheduled to start, and then waited in line for almost an hour and a half. When they finally herded us in, Canet and Cotillard came out on the stage to announce that they had just flown from Paris to present the film to us, but the new state of the art projection system wasn’t registering the subtitles. So, here was the compromise: anyone that spoke French could stay there and watch the film, and anyone that didn’t could take a four block walk to another theater where the film would be shown with subtitles. Sadly, that means the new show time would be shortly after 3pm, the movie was two hours and thirty-five minutes long, and my ticket to Never Let Me Go was for 6pm and a long trek across town. So Little White Lies and I were not destined to be, at least not today.

After some more writing I headed to the Ryerson Theater, where my next two movies were showing back to back. I bet you’d love to believe this meant I could just stay in the theater, but ooohhhh no, not that easy. After the first showing I had to exit and get in line for the next one, already wrapped around the block. After both films (reviews are below), I then tried to rush the midnight movie, Bunraku. Allow me to translate: TIFF holds a midnight movie at the Ryerson every night of the fest. These are often horror, sci-fi, lowbrow/low budget action, etc. The midnight movie for Saturday was Bunraku, some sort of crime noir with Woody Harrelson, Demi Moore, and Josh Hartnett that sounded interesting. It was sold out, but I tried to rush it, which is an option for every screening at TIFF. Basically, a rush line forms at a screening for anyone that wants to see the movie but doesn’t have a ticket. Then, when the show’s about to start, festival staff counts the number of empty seats and lets that many people in from the rush line. The production and distribution companies for each film are usually allotted an obscene amount of tickets, most of which don’t get used, so this is where the empty seats get created. Often times, over 100 people from the rush line will get into a screening. But for whatever reason, last night at the Ryerson, there was only one person working the box office to sell tickets to the people in the rush line. So by the time they got to my spot in the rush line, the movie had started twenty minutes ago. The guys behind me didn’t seem to think this was a big deal, and they happily shuffled in, but I’m a purist; if I can’t see a movie from the first second, I’m not interested. So I called it a night.

End result for Saturday: tried to see five movies, succeeded with two, and waited in three hours worth of lines for movies I didn’t even get to see. Hopefully Sunday will be better.

Movie: Never Let Me Go

What Is It? Taking place in an alternate present-day England with no disease, people are bred to be organ donors. By their mid-20s, these people begin their donations, and after three or four, they “complete” (die). Living sheltered lives away from real society, three of these people—Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy—have a romantic triangle that plays out against their short, devalued lives.

Director: Mark Romanek—known as one of the best music video directors around (he’s responsible for two of my all-time favorites: Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer,” and Johnny Cash’s “Hurt”), Romanek made his feature film debut with 2002’s Robin Williams drama One Hour Photo. This is his second film.

Notable Cast: Carey Mulligan (an Oscar nominee last year for the wonderful An Education), Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield (star of the upcoming The Social Network and recently cast as the next Spider-Man) play the three lead characters.

Notable Crew: Alex Garland, writer of The Beach, adapted the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro.

The Grade: B-

Thoughts: Overall, it was good, but I liked it better when it was called Blade Runner. Sure, the movies are radically different, but the themes they tackle are so uniquely similar that it’s impossible not to draw comparisons. You can safely think of this as Blade Runner minus the sci-fi elements, with a touch of British class drama thrown in.

As is the case with all of Romanek’s videos, the visuals are generally quite stunning, and the three leads do a wonderful job, particularly Mulligan’s melancholy narration and a scene towards the end where Garfield’s character lets his whole soul pour out.

But the film still has a major flaw that will be obvious even to people who haven’t seen Blade Runner. After we find out who these people are and what they’re destined for about twenty minutes in, very little happens over the next hour. In fact, I started to nod off at times, and I talked to a few other people who felt the same. The film’s final act, where our three characters meet their fates, is truly phenomenal, but the story just didn’t know how to get them there in a way that the audience cares about. I don’t know how to solve this problem, but it’s a problem nonetheless. Even still, the last twenty minutes make the film overall worthwhile.

Movie: It’s Kind of a Funny Story

What is it? Craig, a typical sixteen-year old in NYC, is feeling suicidal, so he checks himself into the psych ward at a hospital, without realizing that means he must stay a minimum of five days. He meets Bobby, who’s sort of like a fat Yoda to the rest of the ward, and Noelle, also a teen suicide risk, but a foxy one.

Director: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, the same team that made 2008’s Sugar and 2006’s Half Nelson (which earned Ryan Gosling an Oscar nomination).

Notable Cast: Zach Galifianakis (the break-out star of last summer’s The Hangover) plays Bobby, while relative unknowns Emma Roberts and Keir Gilchrist plays Noelle and Craig.

The Grade: A-

Thoughts: A really enjoyable film that I suspect will find a sizable audience through great word of mouth, a la Little Miss Sunshine and Juno. The most amazing aspect might have been the ability to craft a mental institution dramedy without really recalling One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which is about as easy as making a nuclear war comedy without referencing Dr. Strangelove. Using a dazzling array of styles and visual techniques, Fleck & Boden recall the look of films like (500) Days of Summer and The Science of Sleep, but make the outcome feel original.

Some of the best scenes involve slight departures from reality, such as an animated sequence of the cityscapes Craig likes to draw, and a fever dream music video of the ward patients performing Bowie & Queen’s “Under Pressure,” which looked like one of the most fun days of shooting any movie could ever have. Galifianakis also shows in the movie that he has true acting chops beyond just his obvious comedic talent, and I’m making a bold prediction: he’ll get an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

The flaw of the movie is that it acts as though a sixteen-year old can solve many of the problems in a hospital psyche ward after a five-day visit, which is, of course, a slightly over-simplified reality. But the conclusion leaves the characters not with happily ever after, but instead just happy to be, and that should be the dream of any mental patient.

After the screening of It’s Kind of a Funny Story, the cast and directors stuck around for a pretty engaging Q & A, with Zach Galifianakis inciting some uproarious laughter simply with his mannerisms. I even managed to get a question in for the directors; I asked about whether they write scenes with specific songs in mind, and what happens if they can’t get the rights to some of the songs they envision being in the film. Fleck said that sometimes they have backup plans, but it almost always works out. Though he added that in the case of “Under Pressure,” when a bit of difficulty arose, he and Boden told their producers that they wouldn’t make the movie without that song in it. One thing that amazed me at the Q & A is that, while most high school characters in TV and film are played by actors in their mid-twenties, Keir Gilchrist played a sixteen-year old but didn’t even look Bar Mitzvah ready in person.

On Tap for Tomorrow: I have a ticket for Ben Affleck’s The Town, and I’m hoping to get several others (plus it’d be nice to actually see all the movies I have tickets for).

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