Sunday, September 1, 2013

My Mini TIFF Preview

I have been going to TIFF since 2005 – although that first year, I only saw four films. Starting in 2006, I have taken the week off of work, and tried to see as many films as possible. Since my daughter was born two years ago, I’ve had to cut back slightly (and a special thanks to my wonderful wife for being a single parent for a week every year), but I continue to go. Usually, I don’t go much during the first few days of the Festival – that’s when the Fest is at its busiest, and everything seems to be running late, etc. What this means is that I always miss many of the highest profile films at the Festival, which seems to become increasingly front loaded every year. This year is no exception – I’ll be going from Sunday to Thursday this year – (although the first and last days are really part days) and seeing 17 films. Yes, I miss some of the high profile ones –, but my theory is, who cares? It’s not that I don’t want to see them, just that I know I will get to see them, and soon. For instance, I really want to see Dennis Villenueve’s Prisoners – but the film opens wide on September 20th. Do I really need to spend my time at the festival seeing this? This year, I am going to see a few high profile films that I know I could see by the end of the year. The rest are smaller or foreign or docs or don’t yet have distribution, etc. I like an eclectic mix of films, and I like to see as many different kinds as I can during my Festival days. As always, some will be great, some terrible, I’ll most likely come home exhausted, and with a cold (I’ve never NOT gotten a cold at TIFF – a byproduct of spending so much time alternating between standing in line on sidewalks, sometimes in the rain, and in air conditioned theaters). And as always, it will likely be one of my favorite weeks of the year.

Without further ado, here are the 17 I will be seeing at TIFF this year.

August: Osage County (John Wells)
Yes, I could wait a few months and see this in theaters, but I couldn’t help myself. I saw Tracy Letts brilliant play on Broadway a few years ago, and it remains my favorite live theater going experience of my life (not that there’s all that much to choose from). The director has me worried – TV Vet Wells only has one feature directing credit, the decidedly average The Company Men (2010), and I really wish they would have hired William Friedkin, who did Letts proud with Bug and Killer Joe. Yet, Letts adapted his own play, and for the most part, the cast is great. No, I’ve never been a big fan of Julia Roberts, and wish Amy Morton (who OWNED the role on Broadway could have kept the lead) – but when you have Meryl Streep, Margo Martindale, Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis (who is PERFECT for her role), Abigail Breslin, Dermont Mulroney, Sam Sheppard, Chris Cooper, Misty Upham and Juliette Nicholson as the rest of the cast, I’m not too worried. The trailer makes this seem much more comedic and lightweight than the play – but since when can you trust trailers? This one has me excited and extremely nervous at the same time.

Child of God (James Franco)
Modern day renaissance man James Franco adapts one of Cormac McCarthy’s darkest novels (and that’s saying something) with Child of God, about a man cut off from society, as he devolves into a life of crime. I haven’t seen Franco’s other directing work – his Faulkner adaptation As I Lay Dying got decidedly mixed reviews at Cannes this year – but McCarthy is one of my favorite authors, and Child of God is one of his few novels that should lend itself to a cinematic adaptation. And Franco was smart enough to not cast himself in the lead role – that goes to Scott Haze, an actor I am not familiar with. The one review out of Venice that I’ve seen – after I picked the movie – was pretty bad, but I’m willing to take a chance on anything associated with McCarthy, so let’s see how this goes.

Devil’s Knot (Atom Egoyan)
A last minute addition – got free tickets from work and the screening time worked out perfectly. Egoyan’s latest is about the West Memphis Three – and although we already have four very good documentaries about the case (the Paradise Lost trilogy, and last year’s West Memphis Three), there is plenty of material here to make a good dramatic movie. I’m not sure what to expect – unsurprisingly, the bigger stars like Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth, who play the parents of the victims or other roles – are listed before the people play the West Memphis Three themselves. Egoyan has fallen out of favor with many since his career high of The Sweet Hereafter (1997) – although I would argue that Felcia’s Journey (1999) and Where the Truth Lies (2005) are among his best, and even Ararat (2002) and Adoration (2008) aren’t as bad as their reputation suggests (I make no excuses for Chloe from 2009 – that movie sucked). As a Canadian, I’m always interested in Egoyan, so I’m looking forward to this one.

Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron)
The other title I could see if I waited awhile, but cannot bring myself to do so. Alfonso Cuaron’s last film, Children of Men (2006) is a dystopian masterpiece, and I’ve waited far too long already for his follow-up. This is a long time passion project, that has had its release date moved a couple of times, as Cuaron worked long and hard editing it. The preview is brilliant – and the word out of Venice is already great. I’m not a big fan of Sandra Bullock – but I am of Cuaron, and that more than makes up for it. The preview tells you all you need to know I think – Bullock is an astronaut, who while on a spacewalk has an accident that sees her adrift in space. George Clooney co-stars. Yes, I could have waited until October – no, I had no interest in doing so, since this was one of my most anticipated films of the year – and the reviews out of Venice and Telluride have been amazing, so I think I made the right call.

The Invisible Woman (Ralph Fiennes)
I was a big fan of Fiennes’ directorial debut – Coriolanus – a few years ago, which for my money is one of the best Shakespeare adaptations in recent memory, and quite daring in many ways. This one – about Charles Dickens (Fiennes) and his long term affair with a much younger woman (Felicity Jones) seems a little more subdued and conventional – the reviews I’ve seen out of Venice and Telluride have been respectful, but not much more. To be honest, this was a “filler” pick – not one of my 10 first picks, but added to in a hole, when what I really wanted to see in that time slot was filled. Still, Fiennes is a fine actor, and a promising director, so while I’m not dying to see it, I’m still very curious.

Joe (David Gordon Green)
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I am huge fan of David Gordon Green’s first four films – George Washington, All the Real Girls, Undertow and Snow Angels, and even liked his first mainstream effort – Pineapple Express. I’ve also made no secret of the fact that I was hugely disappointed with his two other mainstream films – Your Highness and The Sitter. Green did somewhat return to form this year with Prince Avalanche (which I saw this weekend – review coming soon), and this film starring Nicolas Cage, as an ex-con who meets a teenage boy. Yes, it kind of sounds like this year’s Mud (and even stars the same teenage boy – the immensely talented Tye Sheridan) – but if Green is returning to his old style, I still cannot wait to see this one. And while Cage excels in going wildly over the top, it’s easy to forget just how damn good he can be in the right role. Reviews out of Venice have been mixed – but that’s better than some of what Green has done recently, so I’m still looking forward to this one.

Kill Your Darlings (John Krokidas)
This film got some very good reviews out of Sundance this year – and the subject matter interests me – so this was a perfect “filler” movie for me. The film is about the early days of the Beat poets – focusing on the murder of David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall) by Lucien Carr (the immensely talented, up and coming actor Dane DeHaan) – and what it meant for the group. Featuring Daniel Radcliffe as Alan Ginsberg, Ben Foster as William S. Burroghs and Jack Huston as Jack Kerouac – and a supporting cast including Elisabeth Olson, David Cross, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kyra Sedgwick – this one has so far almost been universally regarded as better than Walter Salles’ On the Road from last year (and I liked that more than some did), so I’m very much looking forward to it, even though the director is a first timer.

Manuscripts Don't Burn (Mohammad Rasoulof)
Manuscripts Don't Burn garnered praise and controversy when it played at Cannes this year. The film is about censorship in Iran - and details the failed assassination attempt of 21 writers and journalists in that country in 1995. Not surprisingly, Iran wasn't happy with the film - none of Rasoulof's films have been allowed to be released in Iran yet, and this one certainly won't either, as like fellow countryman Jafar Panahi, he has been banned from making movies (and like Panahi, makes them anyway). This was a last minute filler choice for me - I got nervous that The Wind Rises and A Touch of Sin were too close to each other, so I traded for a different show of A Touch of Sin, and unfortunately had to drop Paradise: Hope, for this one. The reviews from Cannes were respectful – admiring the intent, and what he went through to make the film, perhaps more than the film itself. Still, respect has to be paid to a man willing to risk his freedom for the movies he wants to make.
Night Moves (Kelly Reichardt)Kelly Reichardt’s last three films have all been small scale, intimate and brilliant. Old Joy (2006) re-established her as a director to watch – and the heartbreaking Wendy & Lucy (2008), and minimalist Western Meek’s Cutoff (2010) – which I saw at TIFF that year - confirmed that talent. This film – about three environmentalists (Jesse Eisenberg, Peter Sarsgaard and Dakota Fanning) who plot to blow up a dam(so no, this isn’t a remake of the great 1975 noir by Arthur Penn, although that would be cool) – sounds like her biggest effort to date. The reviews out of Venice do suggest that it’s her most mainstream film – a thriller – to date, but still very much one of her films – and are also very good so far. I’ll see anything by Reichardt, and the reviews make me think I choose right.

Omar (Hany Abu-Assad)
Hany Abu-Assad’s Paradise Now was controversial for many – as it was a sympathetic portrait of Palestinian suicide bombers – but I found that film to be intense and thoughtful – much more complex than its critics gave it credit for. Since that 2005, he has been a part of two omnibus films (unseen by me) and the English language, direct-to-video The Courier with Mickey Rourke (also unseen by me). This film returns him to Palestine – and controversy – although the film did win a prize in the Un Certain Regard competition at Cannes this year. As someone who quite liked Paradise Now, I’m interested in his newest film in the region – which made this an easy “filler” choice.

The Police Officer’s Wife (Philip Groning)
I try to take a few chances at TIFF every year – and this is what The Police Officer’s Wife represents to me this year. Phillip Groning got a lot of acclaim for his documentary – Into Great Silence (2005) – although it remains unseen by me. In fact, all of his films have remain unseen by me. This one, which debuted at Venice – as already been called harrowing, slow, pretentious, violent, brilliant, - and sometimes all in the same review. 175 minutes long, broken up into 59 “chapters” this could either be a very long, slow, painful sit – or a masterwork. I won’t know until I see it – and I’m looking forward to finding out.

Stranger By the Lake (Alain Guiraudie)
This film, which has been described by some as a Hitchcock-like thriller with gay sex – became one of critical favorites at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Directing prize in the Un Certain Regard section. For many who didn’t care for Palme D’Or winner Blue is the Warmest Color, about lesbians, this was the film they embraced instead – and called the festival hypocrites for putting attractive lesbians in the main competition, and gay men in the sidebar.  Obviously, I have no opinion on either film, or look forward to both, but color me intrigued by this one.

Tom at the Farm (Xavier Dolan)
Xavier Dolan has to be tired of being called a “wunderkind” – but when you’re in your early 20s, and have already made three acclaimed films, that’s what you get. I was a fan of his debut, I Killed My Mother, and its follow-up, Heartbeats – although the three hour running time has prevented me from seeing Laurence Anyways to this point (I need to correct that). His latest is only 95 minutes – and is a genre he hasn’t worked in before – a thriller. The one review out of Venice that I’ve read is respectful – comparing the film to the work of Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train, the Ripley books) – which is high praise to me. As much as I liked his first two films, I still feel that they are the films of a director who is going to get even better with time – so I’m going to continue to follow him.

A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhangke)
This is the film that more than anything I wanted to ensure I saw at this year’s festival – because although Jia Zhangke is one of the most acclaimed directors on the planet, you can never tell if his films will actually get a release in North America. The film won the screenplay prize at Cannes this year, and was a big critical hit. The film seems more mainstream than much of Zhangke’s work – a quartet of stories about violence in modern China. Other than that, I don’t know much – which is by design, as I don’t want to know too much about it – but anything by Jia Zhangke is a must see, although often it’s hard to see them.

Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)
Like everyone, I highly Jonathan Glazer’s debut film – Sexy Beast – especially Ben Kingsley (should have been) Oscar winning performance as the bad guy. And you can count me in the half of people who think his follow-up, Birth, is even better (the other half, of course, think it’s pretentious shit). Why it’s taken him 9 years to follow that film up, I have no idea, but this film – about an alien in the form of Scarlett Johansson who travels through Scotland studying people – sounds fascinating, and is based on an acclaimed novel (unread by me – but not for long). As far as I know, the film hasn’t been picked up for North American release yet – but it’s still one of my most anticipated films – and the reviews out of Telluride makes me believe I’m not wrong to have high expectations.

The Unknown Known (Errol Morris)
I remember discussing Morris’ brilliant, Oscar winning doc The Fog of War (2004) with a friend who said that he found it hard to believe that then current Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would ever be as candid an interview subject as Robert McNamara was in that film. Well, we’re about to find out if that’s true or not, as Morris’ latest film is a feature length film on Rumsfeld with the main attraction being the man himself. Anything by Morris is worth seeing, and you know he won’t lob softball questions at Rumsfeld. Morris’ infamous shooting style has a way of exposing the truth in his interview subjects – even if they’re lying. The first reviews suggest it’s not as good as The Fog of War, because Rumsfeld remains more elusive than McNamara – but we already expected that, right?

The Wind Rises (Hayao Miyazaki)
The greatest director of animation in cinema history returns with his latest film –and since he’s well into his 70s, we never know if it will be his last (he announced his retirement today, but he’s done that before) – which is already a huge hit in Japan, and a hugely controversial film. The film is about a man who designs fighter planes for Japan in WWII – and has led some in Japan to call Miyazaki a traitor. I doubt that highly – but I do know that Miyazaki is one of the greatest directors in history, and every time he directs a film, it is an event in my household at least. I cannot wait for this one.

No comments:

Post a Comment