TIFF Review: You Are Here

 

 

 
Here is an experiment. Take the name of six colours, write them in random order several times using a coloured pen that does not match the name of the colour. Time yourself reading this list of colours. Write the same list of colours using only black ink and time yourself reading the list. The mind works is strange ways, and has trouble if preconceived associations to familiar things or objects get too close to one another. Daniel Cockburn, a Toronto video artist has just made a wild and crazy jump into features with a film-slash-brain-experiment that wants to perform a witty and colourful brain massage. He wants to play with your cerebellum in the same way that the perception of film works: ‘Persistence of Vision’ as shutters push single frames to form the illusion of movement. We will ignore the contradiction that he mainly shoots on video. Contradictions are what the film is about.

Cockburn wants to expand your consciousness or provide the illusion of expanding your consciousness or expand your consciousness while providing the illusion that he has not. You Are Here. The statement is both a location as well as a confirmation of existence. Different things, really. The red dot that defines your location on the map can be just as much of a misleader as a guide. The meaning of the film goes beyond the dual-nature of the title into something that is both profound and a profoundly funny. It is science. It is art. It is absurd and hilarious sleight-of-hand. It is an ultra lo-fi version of Inception in which the filmmakers might as well be Leonardo Di Caprio and company (in shabbier clothing mind-you) and the audience are simultaneously the beneficiary of planted ideas and the mark of a baffling grift. The TIFF catalogue labels the film as Dr. Seuss meets Samuel Beckett, and I cannot really argue with that. It is an apt a description as you are going to get without telling you much. When it ended after an all too brief 75 minutes, I was upset. I wanted to see how many more times the filmmakers could fold their narrative in upon itself while keeping me in its spell. Riding the wave, before it collapsed. Like any good performer, Cockburn knows to keep the audience wanting more. Or they ran out of money, drugs or the ability to keep a hold of the reigns. I am sure the director will never tell.
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TIFF Review: Lapland Odyssey

 

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Director Dome Karukoski sure knows how to set a tone. In order to get you into the spirit of his occasionally blackly comic single night road trip film Lapland Odyssey, he introduces you to a tree – a long-dead pine tree that has served as the hanging spot for 5 generations of suicidal Finnish men. From the early settlers of the area who were enticed via promises of cheap land to modern day young men who have no jobs, see no future and can’t even catch a break when Finland makes it to the final of the Hockey World Championship (how cruel is it to be up 5-1 against rival Sweden and then still lose?) there have been a long line of swinging bodies. Around Christmas time – a period of typically very high unemployment, massive amounts of snow and very little sunlight – that dead tree is looking pretty good.

Our narrator informs us he even did an elementary school report on it as part of a project on local tourist attractions – apparently the highlight of his academic and professional careers. You get the feeling he’s considered visiting that tree up close and personal. This isn’t his story though – it’s the tale of his best friend Janne’s journey to find a digital TV recorder before 9 AM the next morning. If he doesn’t, his live-in girlfriend will leave him. Before you think, “Well, that’s harsh”, understand that she’s been asking him for 3 years, has actually given him the money to pay for it and specifically asked for him to do it that day so that they can watch Titanic together later that night. Since he failed at even getting that simple task done before the stores closed – wasting time sleeping and hanging with his similarly lethargic friends – she’s laid down a final ultimatum.

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TIFF Review: Womb

 

 

 
Young Rebecca finds the love of her life at a very tender age of twelve with Tommy. They spend an endlessly cloudy and rainy summer on a spartan beach where they share their souls and first kiss. They watch a snail crawl over a porcelain surface, the merging of sterile and virgin and organic and slimey. Being bound to move away to Tokyo after the summer, thousands of miles and 12 years of time do not stop Rebecca (now played by Eva Green at her most beautiful and detached) and Tommy (Matt Smith) from picking up right where they left off. An almost feral bond of love, these two are in another world completely when they are together, one where words are barely necessary such is their mutual connection. She has made a career programming sonar equipment, a job that can be done over the internet at the remote beach, and he is a biologist who has never moved away and has been breeding cockroaches for an activist stunt. All seems set for a life of bliss at the end of the world until Tommy is accidentally killed on the road to the protest – a cloning research and technology center built in the area. Instead of grieving his loss or railing against the cloning facility for causing the protest, she takes the more pragmatic approach. After all, she waited for 12 year in Tokyo, why not another 20 to have her Tommy return, in a manner of sorts. She gets very uneasy permission from Tommy parents (Leslie Manville and Peter Wight who could not get along in Mike Leigh’s Another Year, but have an implied intimate and healthy relationship here) to take a sample of Tommy’s DNA and use herself as the womb to birth the child – a copy of her former lover and soulmate. In a way, Womb is sort of a time-travel movie, the passage of time is rarely explicitly given, you can infer by the change actors for long stretches, but such is the relationship of Rebecca and Tommy that time does not have a lot of meaning when they are together. When Rebeca makes her return, Tommy is in bed with another woman, an apparent one night stand, she has the decency to make an attempt at introductions (“Like normal people”) while they immediately know who each other are, despite the passage of years. They only stare into each others eyes. People this into each other are kind of scary.

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TIFF Review: Beautiful Boy

 

 

 
There are enough school shooting films out there at the moment that they are threatening to become a sub-genre unto themselves. Elephant, Bowling For Columbine, Polytechnique have all won major awards and Uwe Boll has made one as well. So enter freshman filmmaker Shawn Ku who gives us a film, Beautiful Boy, which is torn on two fronts. On one hand it struggles to transcend clichés as a hand-held realistic and grounded drama, and on the other it wants to throw plates, obsessively scrub gravestones and have its principle characters do enough body-shaking crying so as to rival a belly-dancers funeral. There is a good film struggling to get out past a few bad writing choices, screenplay feels just a tad overwritten. Bolstered significantly by top shelf performances from its leads, Maria Bello and Michael Sheen (doing an American accent quite well), the two play the grieving parents, Bill and Kate, of freshmen college student Sam. Sam is killed in a columbine style school shooting and Kate immediately knows her son is the victim when the cops come knocking at the door. But both parents are flabbergasted when they discover that it was their son who shot all of his classmates before turning the gun on himself.

Bill and Kate are middle-aged, middle class parents, and they have their problems. Bill is considering moving out of the household on a trial separation due to a lack of communication or passion in the household, but their issues are not outside of the bounds of any family at the hump of the middle class distribution curve. They may not have been the best parents in the world, but they are hardy the worst. Thus the shock of sort out why their son did this violent crime and even left an angry manifesto-styled video for the news media. There is little time to consider this in the quiet of their own home which soon becomes the campsite for hundreds of media vans desperate for grist for the mill of the 24/7 news cycle. Taking refuge at the home of Kate’s brother (Alan Tudyk) for a time until the dust settles. Kate’s Brother’s wife Trish and her 8 year old son immediately complicate things however. The young boy sees things on the news and at school and starts asking question nobody is prepared to answer. Every gesture and action of Kate towards the child or even sharing of the household chores becomes a moment loaded with unconscious judgment and guilt on both sides. The awkwardness of this new relationship, on top of everything else is palpable for all parties, despite the desire to ‘be helpful.’ Kate’s brother actually keeps a quite level head about things, he can almost make an inappropriate-but-not-malicious joke to himself as if to acknowledge that the situation “just is” and that we all deal with as best we can. Kate and Bill eventually move into a hotel room to pick up the pieces of their present situation and difficult future ahead.
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TIFF Review: A Horrible Way to Die

 

AAnd now for something completely different: A mumblecore tinged serial killer drama starring Amy Seimetz, Joe Swanberg, two regulars of the movement, and House of the Devil’s A.J. Bowen. It is noteworthy, if slightly belaboured connection, that Ti Wests 80’s inspired satanist slasher had a significant role for mumblecore icon Greta Gerwig. This is the first and last time I will use the “M”-word for fear of the filmmakers seeking out and destroying me. After watching A Horrible Way To Die, I can imagine they would find a creative and interesting way to do it. The film is an intimate, if awkward, relationship story that parallels alcohol addiction to the sick state of mind of a repeat murderer in Missouri. For a genre that usually gets its rocks off on gore and high thrills, writer Simon Barrett (Dead Birds) and director Adam Wingard dial it back to characters and situation and put a hell of a lot of trust in the audience by telling the story out of chronological order with too few cues that they are doing so. A word of warning on this one, you have to go along with things for some time before the pieces slot into place. Either that or pay attention to Bowen’s facial hair or Amy Seimetz wardrobe. This is not difficult given the narrow focus and close-up cinematography. Despite the films obviously limited resources, it is a smart visual strategy and an excellently tense “There Will Be Blood”-eque soundtrack makes the most of things on the production value side.

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TIFF Review: 127 Hours

 

It turns out that two great things came about from Danny Boyle’s previous over-baked and lobotomized fantasy, Slumdog Millionaire. First, the Oscar means he will probably be able to work for the rest of his life if he so chooses, hopping genres with every film like contemporary film chameleons Stephen Soderbergh and Michael Winterbottom. Second, was the collaboration with A.R. Rahman who leads off 127 hours with one of the snappiest pieces of musical introduction to come along since, well, Shallow Grave or Trainspotting. Boyle excels at the meld of the visual and musical rhythm – it screams youth and energy. The music and opening scenes set such an optimistic, bustling tone for a film you probably know by now will go another direction at some point. The title card is withheld until that turn comes, but not before the film spends a bit of time with its lead and his outdoorsy risk-taking spirit. An early, violent spill off a mountain bike that might deter the casual offroad cyclist elicits a giggle, a shrug and a digital camera snap in the embarrassingly compromised position. The tale of Aron Ralston is one of confidence, self-sufficiency and frankly narcissistic hubris. Any goofy mistake is one for the flickr photo stream and likely an amusing anecdote over beers. Embodied by James Franco, an actor who gets better and better with every film he is in (you will have to let me know about that TV Soap opera), his Ralston is the life of the party, even as he leaves to do something by himself before the party is over. He meets two girls in while biking around and gives them the (platonic) time of their lives via a narrow gap in the rocks dropping dozens of meters into a cave-pool. The girls find him cute but can see that he is lost in himself leading one of them to remark, “How much do you think we will factor into his day.” Someone who knows where this is going might appreciate the films bleak humour. One of the girls asks him, after he mentions that he is a geologist when not tramping around or climbing rocks, if he thinks the narrow gap of rock will movie while they wait in the space. Despite Ralston’s pithy response that everything is always moving (more self involvement) we know from one Werner Herzog that nature is indifferent and cruel; if it does move, it will not be because you are in the gap, the world does not revolve around the young.

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TIFF Review: The Butcher, the Chef, & the Swordsman

 

When a fat, vulgar and none-too-bright butcher glimpses the woman of his dreams, the lovely Mei who conjures visions of peach blossoms and naughty sex, there is nothing that is going to stop him from making her his own, or shouting about it at full volume. She is queen and seemingly unreachable at the town’s upscale brothel. Mocked even by his own friend for his crass boldness, our Butcher is smitten to the point where class, looks, money, a full-blown rap number from the brothel matron are not deterrents. But then there is the vicious sword-wielding thug appropriately named “Big Beard” who seems invincible and intent on humiliating our ‘hero’ by carving a pig tattoo on his chest with rapid flicks of his blade. But luck favours the plump blow-hard in the form of a vengeful chef who wanders in town with an invincible cleaver forged from the melted down iron of the greatest weapons on the planet.

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TIFF Review: Trigger

 

 

 
The band is called Trigger and in their day they were something. Ten years later in present day Toronto the two lead women of the band reunite in a sterile restaurant that smacks of everything their music was once in revolt of. They haven’t spoken since their abrupt onstage break-up, and the paths they have taken live in the shadow of what they once were. Kat is late and Vic is seething. Thus begins a conversation that carries them from Harbourfront to Parkdale to Allen Gardens to out of the way high school, devolving and evolving into something organically funny, sad and at times startling profound. In this his second Toronto story of the year, Bruce McDonald has made his own My Dinner with Andre that soaks in the talent and environment of Hogtown in a beautiful swan song for the late Tracy Wright, whose first lead performance as Vic will break your heart.

While still reveling in a medley of pleasures, the reuniting of the Twitch City crew, the original music of Brendan Canning (of Broken Social Scene), the ‘smell’ of Rock n’ Roll, and the guerilla sensibility of a bunch of friends making something on the familiar streets of our home, Trigger is more than a lark. Working from a phenomenal script that broaches the most believable animosities and familiarities of friends and lovers who have grown apart, Molly Parker as Kat and Tracy Wright as Vic are magnificent in their respective roles. Kat, the L.A. sellout, and Vic, the insecure music purist (with her ‘acoustic introspections’), struggle to reconcile their differences with one another and the drunk and junkie identities they left behind. McDonald plays up the inner struggles with theatric asides of the characters fantasizing of falling off the wagon, but mostly the struggles are seething under the surface ready to explode in key scenes.
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TIFF Review: I Saw the Devil

 

“Nothing will go wrong,” is about the must amusing thing to ever hear in a Kim Ji Woon film. The director has made a number of films spanning a number of genres and they are about just about everything going terribly, terribly wrong. Even if the players fancy themselves in control of the situation. Here we have a methodical (Oldboy‘s Choi Min Sik) but unhinged killer of young women, who drives a small school bus and has a torture dungeon for scattering body parts across town. When he kills the fiancée of a state policeman (A Bitter Sweet Life‘s Lee Byung-Hun) he gets far more than he bargained for. Instead of spending his grief-time mourning the loss of his beloved, he uses that time to go full vigilante, initially soliciting help from the victims father (also a retired cop), but rapidly killing and torturing his way to cut through the red tape of typical police work. But, as is the mantra of the film, ‘we are just getting started’, the agent does not want to capture or kill his enemy, he wants to make him suffer in every way possible. Things do not go according to plan, and thus a back and forth of people doing terrible things to each other escalates to a point where the film moves well beyond serial killer movie clichés because nothing quite this charismatically sadistic has been done in the genre at this point. I Saw The Devil is a movie of oneupmanship usually reserved for comedies – here it is a oneupmanship of tragedies that ripple outward from the two crazy men at the center.

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