Wednesday, September 16, 2009

TIFF Day #7: The Front Line, Youth in Revolt and Life During Wartime

So today, I decided to call an early day, and skip my last two movies and head home. I am tired as hell, and could use a better night sleep tonight to recharge for the next two days. More importantly, I missed my wife, and having a relationship of only short phone calls and text messages this week. Yeah, I know, it’s only a week, but I can’t help it. I wanted to see her. So I went home. I will ensure that when I get an opportunity I will see Samantha Morton’s The Unloved and Francois Ozon’s Le Refuge (the two skipped), if for no other reason than because I feel guilty.

But enough about that, let’s get to the three films I did actually see. First up was Renato De Maria’s The Front Line (**) an Italian political thriller about an extreme left week group in the late 1970s to early 1980s, and the action that they took. Focusing on Sergio Segio (Riccardo Scamarcio) and Susanna Rocconi (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), two of the leaders of the Prima Linea, a left wing terrorist group who starts out protesting, and ends up bombing and assassinating people in order to try and get their way. They do not seem to realize that even the poor factory workers they are apparently fighting for don’t even support them, and everyone wishes they would just stop what they are doing. Eventually, Segio gets fed up with the life, and decides to leave, but when Susanna is arrested, he decides to stage a daring breakout to get her out of jail. All of this probably sounds exciting, and I am sure that a wonderful movie could be made out of this true life story, but this isn’t it. The two leads have zero chemistry together, and while I like Mezzogiorno quite a bit when she wasn’t with her leading man, Scamarcio is a bore throughout the film. The film is bookended with scenes of Segio in jail telling his story, and saying again and again and again how wrong they were, and how he feels so much guilt over the deaths of the people they killed, etc. It was all too much of a downer for me, especially since the characters were not all that interesting. The direction by De Maria is actually quite good - favoring handheld camera at points, he succeeds in putting you inside the action. Now if only he could succeed in making us care.

Next up was Miguel Arteta’s Youth In Revolt (***) starring hometown boy Michael Cera. Cera is the primary reason to see this adaptation of CD Payne’s beloved novel about the misadventures of a teenager who does not quite fit in as he tries to win the heart (and get into the pants) of the girl he loves Sheeni (newcomer Portia Doubleday - also delightful).Cera does his usual schtick as Nick Twisp, the hero of the movie, a Frank Sinatra and foreign film loving teen in Berkeley who complains that in the movies, the girl ends up with the good guy, but in real life, they end up with the assholes. When he is taken on vacation, he meets Sheeni, and they immediately connect over their pretensions, but soon it’s time for Nick to leave, and he spends the rest of the movie trying to find a way back to Sheeni. He even invents an alter-ego in Francois Dillinger - which is just Cera in a bad mustache, smoking a cigarette and doing a terrible impression of the main actor in Jean Luc Godard’s Breathless - to do the things that he cannot, like set fire to half og Berkely. The movie is funny throughout, and the supporting cast, including Steve Buscemi, Jean Smart, Ray Liotta, Justin Long, Fred Willard and Zach Galifianakis do a good job in disguising the fact that their characters are really rather thinly written. Much of the novel’s complete weirdness - which was a strength, as well as a weakness - has been disposed of, but so have some of the edges. A fine teen comedy, with a standout performance by Cera, but Superbad, it’s aint. Then again, it ain’t Year One either, and for that we can be thankful.

Lastly on this shortened day, I saw Todd Solondz’s Life During Wartime (****), his quasi sequel to his 1998 hit Happiness. All of the characters from that film are back, but they are played by different actors. Joy (Shirley Henderson) is now actually married to Alan (Michael K. Williams), the phone sex freak, but things go horribly wrong at dinner one night when he tries to give her an ashtray, much like the one Jon Lovitz tried to give her in Happiness, right before he killed himself. His character is back to, played by Paul Reubens, as a ghost who haunts Joy, and tells her how wonderful she is, until he rejects him once again, and he flips out. Meanwhile Trish (Allison Janney), has moved to Florida, and told everyone her husband Bill (Ciaran Hinds) is dead, when really he has just been in prison for the last decade for being a pedophile. She has met and fallen in love with a new man - Harvey (Michael Lerner), who is a holdover from Welcome to the Dollhouse, not Happiness (and yes, his son Mark makes an appearance again), much to the chagrin of her very curious son, on the verge of his bar mitzah. The pretentious third sister Helen (Ally Sheedy), is back too, having given up the world of poetry for screenwriter, and being in love with Keanu Reeves (who does not, make an appearance). Solondz’s latest film is all about when it is right to forgive and forget - or one and not the other, or neither at all. He typical, horribly awkward, innappropirate and downright cruel conversations are once again the centerpiece of the movie, with the actors delivering their lines just as they were meant to. The strange conversations between Janney and her son seem to come right out of an after school special, until you realize just what they are saying. And poor Joy. Joy is still the most lovable character that Solondz has ever created, and the constant shitstorm that falls upon her is simply not fair. But such is life for a Solondz character. This is one of the best of the festival.

So that’s it for today. Tomorrow, I promise to see all four of the movies I have scheduled - High Life, Mother, My Son My Son What Have Ye Done? and Cleanflix, unless there is a Q&A after My Son that runs too long for me make it to Cleanflix. Until then.

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