If you read my entry a few weeks ago about my TIFF experience this year, you know that instead of seeing around 30 films, I only got to six over two days, because of my new baby. Full reviews of each of the movies will come when they open, but for now, here are my quick thoughts on the films I saw.
Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols) - Nichols’ follow up film to the incredibly underseen Shotgun Stories is this wonderful paranoid, thriller with Michael Shannon give one of the best performances of the year. He plays a regular, middle class, construction worker in rural
- happily married (to Jessica Chastain, in yet another movie this year), with one daughter, who becomes increasingly paranoid about an oncoming storm he sees in his dreams. This makes him do all sort of strange things - not least of which is to fully stock and expand a storm cellar in his backyard. The film has echoes of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds - both obvious and subtle - as the movie slowly ratchets up the suspense, and plays with its visuals and sound to get the audience as paranoid as Ohio Shannon. Shannon is an actor who is best at playing men who are at least slightly unhinged (Bug, World Trade Center, Revolutionary Road), and yet this does not feel like a repeat performance from him - his character’s madness in this film is all his own. As great as Shotgun Stories was, Take Shelter marks a great leap forward for Nichols
Tyrannosaur (Paddy Considine) - Writer/director Considine, best known as an actor, warned the audience in his introduction that many have said his film Tyrannosaur is one to be endured instead of enjoyed - and to prove his point, he opens the film with Peter Mullan’s violent, drunk kicking his dog to death (and that’s nothing compared to another dog in the film). And for the first little while of Tyrannosaur, you start to wonder if it is just going to best a non-stop parade of misery - as Mullan swears at everyone, and lashes out violently at nearly everyone, including the sweet shopkeeper of a Christain store, played by Olivia Colman. At first we think she’s just being nice to Mullan because she’s trying to do God’s work - and then we meet her husband (Eddie Marsan), and know she knows what it’s like to be abused. The film is certainly a tough sit - violent, bloody, disturbing. But it’s also an unflinching look at domestic abuse, in its different forms, and a study in just how long it takes before an abused animal - or person - lashes out. Mullan and Colman are brilliant in the film, who embrace their character, with all their flaws. Eddie Marsan is fine - but he’s playing the Eddie Marsan character - that of a crazy, violent sociopath, in such a pathetic little shell. Considine’s writing and directing are top - if he chooses to, he has a real career ahead of him of a director. A difficult film, and far from perfect, Tyrannosaur is still unforgettable.
The Descendants (Alexander Payne) - It has taken Alexander Payne 7 long years to follow up his critically adored, Oscar nominated Sideways. But it was well worth the wait. While The Descendants does not have the simple perfection of that film, it is a heartfelt, poignant and hilarious film. It stars
George Clooney in one of his best performances as a man whose wife ends up in a coma because of an accident, and before they take her off life support, he decides to find the man with whom she was having an affair to let him know. The beautiful locations give the film a nice backdrop, but it is the performance by Clooney, as a man struggling with the decisions he has to make that give the film it’s soul. The supporting cast - Shailane Woodley as his oldest daughter, Matthew Lillard as the other man, Judy Greer as the other man’s wife, Robert Forrester as the gruff father in law, Hawaii as a stoned out cousin and Nick Krause as a surfer dude who may not be as shallow as he seems, are all wonderful. As with all of Payne’s films, the film mixes drama and comedy effortlessly, and the film makes you laugh and breaks your heart at the same time, right up it’s simple, perfect final shot. Another triumph for Payne. Beau Bridges
Dark Horse (Todd Solondz) - I have been a longtime supporting of Todd Solondz - even after many critics abandoned him starting with Storytelling, and going through Palindromes and Life During Wartime. But his most recent film, Dark Horse, is a major disappointment. It stars Jordan Gelbar as Abe, a Jewish man, still living at home with his parents (Christopher Walken and Mia Farrow, both in incredibly stupid wigs, which is supposed to be funny I guess), who meets a girl (Selma Blair, perhaps reviving her role from Storytelling, perhaps not) and thinks he is in love. Solondz’s film are often made in response to another film, or films, and it seems to be that Solondz maybe poking fun at the recent spat of films about grown manchildren (particularly the films of Judd Apatow). But while that provide a lot of material from a great film, the film isn’t particularly funny to begin with, going through the motions of poking fun of men who spend their lives obsessed with comic books, and then goes off the rails with fantasy sequences to end. I think this is Solondz trying to tone down his provactive filmmaking for mass consumption - and he has faied.
Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin) - Elizabeth Olson, younger sister of Mary Kate and Ashey, proves she is one hell of an actress in this film about a young woman recruited into a cult not unlike the Manson family, and then escapes and moves in with her long lost sister (Sarah Paulson) and her husband (Hugh Dancy). She doesn’t tell them why she disappeared, or where she was, and her ways are confusing, and scary to them. The present is offset with flashbacks to her life inside the cult, led by John Hawkes in a magnetic performance, and Brady Corbet who is wonderful as well. Martha Marcy May Marlene is the feature debut of writer/director Sean Durkin, and it’s quite simply wonderfully well made, shot, written and acted. A fascinating, disturbing movie.