Sunday, September 12, 2010

TIFF Report #1

As always, I get off to a slow start at TIFF, not attending the first Thursday and Friday, and only one day on the weekend. So yesterday was my first day, I'm off today, then back for five straight. I thought I'd share my thoughts on what I saw yesterday. I will try to do daily reports starting Tuesday, but no guarntees.

Trust (David Schwimmer)
David Schwimmer's Trust is a throughly unplesant movie to sit through - yet given its subject matter that's more of a testament to how well it is made rather than a criticism. Clive Owen and Catherine Keener star as two suburban parents in Chicago who think they have it all. They are not concerned when their 14 year old daughter Annie (Liana Liberato) befriends someone online. After all, the boy is only 16, and is all the way in California. But unknown to them, things are getting more serious between the two of them online - and the kid isn't really 16. First he confesses he is really 20, then 25, but age doesn't matter when you're soulmates does it? He arranges to come to Chicago and meet Annie, and when he shows up, he is really at least 35. Annie is at first put off by this, but the man is good. He tells her that age doesn't matter, and that he thought she was mature enough to handle this. Then he takes her back to his motel. This part of movie works amazingly well. Liberato is great in the role of the naive Annie who believes what she wants to believe about her new friend - even after they have had sex. When the truth comes out, and the FBI becomes involved, Annie still claims she loves him. Meanwhile Clive Owen breaks down and becomes obsessed with trackig the man down and making him pay. The film is directed with sensitivity by Schwimmer - there will be no claims of feeding a pedophiles obsessions here. I admired his way with actors - getting great work from Liberato and Chris Henry Coffey, who is truly the creepiest pedophile in recent memory, because he seems so normal. I also admired the way Schwimmer shows us the sexualized society of young girls all around Annie, without ever directly commenting on it (which would have been too much) and how Owen's job may have contributed to what happened. Less effective is stuff with Owen, which to me was a little too obvious. But when Liberato is onscreen, the movie is never less the riveting. Trust is a difficult movie to watch, but it should be. It is made with skill and sensitivity, and I admired it a great deal. Currently without a distributor, I hope this finds someone to take a chance on it, because it really is worth seeing.

Boxing Gym (Frederick Wiseman)
I said in my TIFF preview that I was a little embarassed that I had never seen a Frederick Wiseman movie, and now that has been corrected. According to Wiseman (who was at the screening) Boxing Gym continues his recent investigations into institutionalized violence. The film is an observational documentary that simply sets up in a boxing gym in Austin, Texas and watches as people from all walks of life come and go and train for different reasons. The only constant presence if Rober Lords, who runs the gym, and trains everyone. What fascinated me about the movie is the care in the editing - Wiseman creates a perfect rhythm to the movie, and the sounds of the gym (people punching bags, jumping ropes, etc.) becomes almost a score in itself. The film, to be, was fascinating, but I now do understand why Wiseman is considered a master - it is impeccably well made - and why he will never be a hugely popular filmmaker - the film doesn't have the "story" many people want out of a doc. It is a fine film, and I am glad I saw it, but it hasn't really made me want to track down Wiseman's other, significantly longer films.

The Conspirator (Robert Redford)
Robert Redford's The Conspirator is the type of historical drama that Hollywood rarely makes anymore - the most recent movie I can think of to compare it to would be Steven Spielberg's Amistad all the way back in 1997. The film opens with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, but is really the story of the trial of Mary Surratt (Robin Wright) who was the only woman tried as part of the conspirary. Represented by young Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy) a Civil War hero for the Union, Aiken at first doesn't want the assignment, but comes to see it as vital. Redford uses this chapter in American history to comment on current issues. It is impossible not to think of the War on Terror and the treatment of terrorism suspects when the trial - which is not a civilian trial but in front of a military court with members handpicked by the Secretary of War (Kevin Kline), where Surratt is forbidden to testify in her own defense. The movie argues that even during times of war, defendants charged with the most heionous crimes deserve a fair trial in front of jury of their peers. There is a lot of talk about what the Civil War was about if not defending the Constitution, as well as fear mongering. The parallel works remarkably well for Redford, who also has a good eye for period detail, and lets the actors due some great work. If there is a problem with the movie its that other than McAvoy, the rest of the characters don't ever really get a chance to develop - they are set in their firsts scenes, and that is who they remain throughout. That doesn't mean the work of the ensemble cast - including Tom Wilkinson, Evan Rachel Wood, Justin Long, Alexis Bledel and Danny Huston alongside McAvoy, Wright and Kline - are not all great, just that I wished for more complexity in their characters, just like there was in the story. But that's a minor gripe. The Conspirator is old fashioned, Hollywood entertainment at its finest.

Stay tuned. Tomorrow I will be seeing Never Let Me Go, 127 Hours, Miral and Let Me In, so hopefully I will be back on Tuesday to let you know my thoughts.

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