TIFF wrap-up!

[Ed. note: Friend of JoBlo.com "Benson Badger" hit up the 2008 Toronto Film Festival and was kind enough to file this report...]

Having your own car and living 5 hours from Toronto is sometimes a good thing. Being able to teleport wherever I want at any given time for free without side-effects and no guilt from having to keep such an ability secret because we could all do the same, that would be better, but shut-up. I decided this past Friday night to head down to the TIFF to catch whatever film I could get a ticket for. I only saw 1 film on Saturday, the shitty 'Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist' (with cast and director in attendance for the Q and A that followed), and 3 others on Sunday. The city has a great vibe and the audiences really are perfect for this kind of event. The receptions for the filmmakers were very warm as well as the audience's involvement with the films playing before them.

Outdoors, the major theaters are all an easy walking distance from one another, so if you line-up your films just right you should have no problem trekking from one to the next. I only attended screenings in 2 theaters, one being Ryerson University's hall which boasts comfortable seating, and the beautiful Elgin Visa Screening Room at which they allowed you entrance early and treated you to snacks and drinks pre-screening if you had a Gold, Platinum or Infinite Visa card... go get one, or how’s about thinking for yourself? Try the latter actually.

Highlight of the fest for me was the premiere of the last film I saw before driving back to Montreal, "The Wrestler". There was a great energy in the air of the packed theater, the film having won the Golden Lion just the day before in Venice. My friend got his "festival story" having taken a leak next to big Harvey Weinstein and his little Harv. Marylin Manson was in attendance, mere seats away from mine, along with girlfriend Evan Rachel Wood. Next to her you'd find Mark Ruffalo, Adrien Brody, Mickey Rourke, Rachel Weisz, Marisa Tomei, and many other filmmakers and actors sprinkled through-out. Did any of this make the slightest difference to how I would perceive the film? Not one bit. I found comfort in the fact that I could probably work up the courage later to tell the filmmaker I hated his film if that would in fact have been the case.

After that screening, while hanging out with some old and new friends we bumped into Rian Johnson, director of 'Brick' and the soon to be released 'Brothers Bloom'. He took time to talk to us about how much he was enjoying checking out films at the fest. I loved ‘Brick’, a film I stumbled upon thanks to free passes and free time, so it was a treat to let the man know. Cool and humble guy.

I'm boring myself, which means you've probably clicked off the page or scrolled pass this point, so here are the reviews...

Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist
RATING: 3/10

Out of the 4 films, this was not only easily the worst, but one of the worst of the year and here's why...

Nick (Cera) is going through massive heart-break after splitting with his ex, a typical shallow high-school bitch who has been cheating on him throughout their 6 month relationship. Enter Nora, who picks up Nick’s rejected mix cds from the trash after his ex chucks them away without having once played them. Grrrr, she’s so mean! Seriously, I don’t even care to explain this plot any further other than to say that a sequence of coincidence’s leads Nick into Nora’s arms in front of his Ex, who is now seemingly jealous and wants him back, all while they want to find where everyone’s favorite band, the fictional “Where’s Fluffy?”, is doing a secret show somewhere in NYC, but first they need to recover Nora’s drunken friend who was put into the care of Nick’s gay band-mates hands, but woops, they lost her. Well, that run on sentence kind of covers it.

Folks, no magic here, and magic is what would have been required for this film to have been any good. The cast of characters are poorly developed and don’t seem to exist beyond the scenes they’re in, possessing only shallow quirks and spouting varying degrees of unfunny dialogue. Only Michael Cera manages to deliver some genuinely funny lines throughout the film, which further proves what a waste he is in this. Jay Baruchel is also quite good as the villainous “friend with benefits” to Nora, whom I failed to mention so far has a secret, and it has something to do with getting into every single club free and ahead of the line. I’m suppressing the use of sarcasm here so I’ll just tell you, I wasn’t on the edge of my seat.

What’s sad is that the screening seemed to be a hit, which tells me the crowd was completely biased, having the cast and director in the audience, exhausted, or brain-dead. I’d see such a film playing well to the lost souls most of today’s high-school kids are. There’s a running gag in this that had the crowd in hysterics, another inexplicable phenomenon. Don’t see for yourself.

Small note irrelevant to the film being good or bad; I didn’t care for the cameos by a few SNL cast members, or musician Devendra Banhart. On that same note, I did like the inclusion of a new track from Vampire Weekend during the credits.

I really think it would be a disservice to myself to go on about why this film didn’t work, and frankly if you made up your mind to see it, my bashing it will only make you more curious. If you weren’t interested, you’re probably very cool and we should be friends, or a hot girl with enough sense to know that I’m the man for you. If you don’t belong to either group, give yourself a round of applause and eat a banana.

Rachel Getting Married
RATING: 8/10

The Jonathan Demme directed drama about a daughter's home-coming from rehab to attend her older sister's wedding, only to have to deal with the reasons for her going away in the first place, is a captivating one. Had they cut out 1 or 2 convenient plot-devices I would have loved it that much more, but I love it none the less.

First off let me say that while Anne Hathaway deserves the cheers she’s been receiving, this cast as a whole is quite special. Beyond the shaky hand held look to the film (which I heard some older folks in the crowd nagging about after the screening), the overall genuine feel of the film can be credited to the performances. I can’t even begin to imagine how a scene featuring a challenge between a father and his future son-in-law’s abilities to load a dishwasher quicker and loading it for better results could be shot so that anyone would care to sit through it. Well, by the time that scene rolls around you not only believe in it, but you will most likely find yourself counting down to see who wins.

The film is funny, and genuinely touching at moments, you never really know what will happen and what effect it might have on the film as much as on you. For Demme, this marks a return to form in feature filmmaking after having let me down with ‘Truth About Charlie’ and ‘Manchurian Candidate’. While the latter was not completely dreadful it was forgettable, and as we all know the man can do better.

As I said, the genuine relationship of this family as a whole is what clinched it for me. I’ll even point out that for a while I was concerned with the role of the groom. A lot of shit goes down from the moment Hatheway’s Kym appears, and he doesn’t seem to have anything to say or do about it, which had me questioning his relationship to Rachel, or if the filmmakers had in fact decided not to develop this character. Not the case, as we slowly discover who this man is throughout the rest of the film and it feels just right.

I got lost in this drama, and I suspect that will be the case for many audiences who watch it. Make no mistake about it, unless the studio messes up completely, this is a hit waiting to happen, both financially and critically.

Is There Anybody There?
RATING: 7/10

The real question is does anybody care? I can’t really say I did about this film, starring Michael Caine as the aging retired magician Clarence, who checks into an old folk’s home as he is becoming senile. There he befriends the home owners son Edward, played by Bill Milner (which I saw recently in the fun but slightly overrated “Son of Rambow’), who thinks the ghosts of the people that die in that home exist, and he intends to find proof.

While I didn’t find myself bored by any of this, I can’t say I was interested. The film doesn’t deserve any points off though as I feel I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind or mood to appreciate the story, which is well told. The performances and direction ranges from competent to great. I particularly enjoyed most moments in which Edward would playback his hidden tape recorder to update his log with his findings, or lack thereof, of any paranormal activity.

There are several morals that come into play throughout the film, most of which you’ll pick-up on early and most likely will cause you to predict the outcome of many of those situations that carry them. But what helps the film is its charm, and its nuances which did allow me to get comfortable with the picture, and believe me that is a rare thing in films these days.

All said, I’m a sucker for a well told story, and it exceeds that basic requirement thanks to the performances, pace and even several memorable scenes. So while I can’t say you should seek this film out when it makes its way to theaters or more possibly DVD, I can tell you I would respect you far more for spending time with this then purposely watching something you know is shitty, like… ummm, so many to choose from, but fine, I’ll say… ‘Disaster Movie’, for example. Hmmm, didn’t see myself mentioning that film in this review. You win and your laughter is my reward!

The Wrestler
RATING: 9/10

Mickey Rourke is Darren Aronofsky's wrestler. I think that sums it up really well. Much like ‘Rachel Getting Married’ we find ourselves in a doc-like telling of Randy "The Ram" Robinson, who's on auto-pilot to nowhere. The opening credits treat us to a quick run through of his career highlights via newspaper and magazine clippings and posters. Once done we see Randy going through the motions of his daily routine. All of this is shot from behind so we never see his face. I think this is as much a reason for us to become curious of how he's aged but also to keep our focus on how mundane these things are for this one time professional wrestling super-star.

The film has some of the most naturally funny moments I've seen in a long time. Stand-out moments were a bar scene where Randy dances to an 80’s rock song (I forget which) and professes his love for that decade, and disdain for Kurt Cobain who changed direction of music, and any scene which involves Randy working at the lunch meat counter of a grocery store. Classic. The fact that these scenes work as well as they do is a credit to Rourke and Aronofsky efforts. The score is present but in no way over-powering, doing what a score should do by enhancing the scenes when used.

I’ve bounced around a bit just now, but there really is a lot that can be discussed about this film. The beauty here is that throughout most of the film things do not feel heavy-handed, and do feel to play out naturally. There is the slight exception of moments between Randy and his daughter (played by Rachel Wood), but I’d have to see the film again to be sure. Oh wait, I didn’t tell you what happens to bring his daughter in the picture… how silly of me. Well, when Randy suffers a heart-attack and is ordered to change his ways, he is told by a stripper he visits regularly (played nudely by Marisa Tomei, who is still as hot as she is talented) that he should perhaps patch things up with his long lost daughter. The thing that keeps me from declaring this whole portion as cheesy or cliché is that Randy really has no clue. The man is lost, and while you do feel for him and he does possess a genuine sweetness he doesn’t know how to behave and so he plays out his feelings as regurgitated sentimentality.

It's really easy to forget you're seeing a film at times, and that in fact Rourke is playing a part. Not knowing much about the actor's life, but enough to know he’s thankful to be in quality pictures again, or any for that matter. There’s Oscar buzz, but I hate Oscars. If I didn’t hate them I’d say he should get one. This isn’t Stallone putting on pounds to redeem his career in ‘Copland’, this is the real deal. Rourke has stripped himself bare, and the man is still more charming then you’ll ever be, even with his looks long gone.

It’s a hard film to sell, but a rewarding and unique experience with a great deal of entertainment value. Well worth seeing when released, and easily the best film I’ve seen this year.

Source: JoBlo.com



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