Ever see a film that is so sweet that it passes beyond your instrinsic gag reflex and makes you love it despite any misgivings from the brain? From sheer force of screen presence and chemistry Martin Landau and (positively radiant) Ellen Burstyn, they manage to hold the film on the rails and stabilize it amongst young director Nik Fackler’s need to inject jittery gimmickry into the narrative. It is perhaps one of the first films about December-December romance that will appeal to the younger set (well if there were any way to get them to see it). It is as if Fackler decided to make his own Away From Her through the editing rhythms of Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream. Where Sarah Polley had the prose of Alice Munroe as a starting point and captured her story in a straightforward manner, Fackler aims for M. Night Shyamalan, which slightly hurts and cheapens the film in the final act. This film could have been an honest contended for annual Christmas viewing ritual along the lines of It’s A Wonderful Life (which unsurprisingly is watched at one point in the film) or A Christmas Story until the rushed final moments, nevertheless, it is Still quite Lovely.
The story follows Robert Malone, a man of advanced years that is so lonely, he meticulously and deliberately wraps a single Christmas present: From Robert to Robert. The opening camera starts on the street of a town in holiday lights that is a modern spin of a Norman Rockwell scene. A panorama of lighted Christmas purity, before stalking into Roberts tidy bachelor home. The only thing amiss are ghostly stains are on the wall where pictures have been removed, as if his life is unfinished somehow. Robert gets up to go to work in the morning, closeups of Martin Landau flossing and brushing his teeth are revealing and interesting and somehow give insight to the warm, yet lonely man that Robert is. On his way out the door he sees a new family moving in next door, he lingers at the scene, but doesn’t wave back to the cheery movers. At work, where he bags groceries, he has an amusingly parental relationship with his boss, a goofy David Brent type (for fans of BBC’s “The Office”), who quaintly believes in an Amway styled cook-book scheme to the point where he actually tries to sell Robert on it. Robert politely and delicately declines and wanders on home, alone.
Enter the stunningly beautiful Mary (Burstyn) who gets a meet-cute with Robert by pretty much invading his house. They have a joyously silly awkward moment, before the very forward Mary asks him out on a date. The date and the budding relationship to follow is so wonderfully, cinematically, romantic that you will find yourself drowning in syrupy sugar, yet not want to leave it. This kind of thing can only happen this visually and emotionally perfect in the movies. There is a joy captured in the interplay between Burstyn and Landau that is the simplest of movie magic harkening back to a different period of film, not much seen today. Just let the actors spend time together performing. Guaranteed to burble tears of joy from even the most cynical movie goer, the middle act of the film is sublime in successful and natural manipulation of the viewer. It is not interested in the ‘realistic’ complexity of the lives of senior falling in mad love along the lines of Paul Cox’s wonderful Innocence, but rather intent of movie fantasy (the good kind). It is a remarkable feat that this is even possible in the climate of the uninspired shooting of Judd Apatow and Nora Ephron ‘romantic comedy’ flicks. And make no mistake, Lovely, Still has a warm generous, even intimate, sense of humour that never belittles Mary or Paul as human beings. The laughs are as natural as a warm, honest smile. And while are strong supporting roles from Elizabeth Banks (An Apatow regular) and Adam Scott, the romance between Robert and Mary and there Christmas surroundings is clearly the focus.
The third act is a doozy though, I believe a major misstep in the film that is difficult to tiptoe around without spoilers. I don’t know how to end the film, but I do know that the ending events are at odds emotionally from the rest of the film, and this is very much to the detriment of the film. It is not that they don’t make narrative sense, they do very much (like the rest of the film) in a very neat and tidy manner. But a false one, even by the films fantasy standards. Still, the picture is worth a look for two seasoned profession actors allowed full reign on their craft to strut their stuff.
My original plan was to not review the movies that really didn’t cause much of an impression with me. These are the movies that I did not really enjoy nor did I dislike like them. I’ve got a few minutes before my next movie start and not enough time to write a larger review so I figure I might as well mention the Chilean movie Tony Manero. Tony Manero fell completely flat with me as I felt no connection to the characters nor did I enjoy the cinematography.
Tony Manero tells the story of a 52 year old Chilean man who is the head of a very small and very poor Chilean dance troupe. Raul has become fixated with the John Travolta’s Tony Manero character from Saturday Night Fever and wishes to become him. His whole life revolves around getting ready for a television contest which will fully validate his existence if he wins the dance impersonation contest.
Personally the whole movie fell flat. I felt no connection to the characters. I did not understand what the dance troupe saw in him and I felt the relationships between the characters were not developed well enough.
I want to include a quote from the official TIFF write up for Tony Manero:
Set in 1978 during Augusto Pinochet’s oppressive reign over Chile, Tony Manero explores the sort of ruthless society that is created when people are too afraid to speak their minds, and are threatened with death, torture and abduction.
The whole societal aspect of the movie also fell flat for me. Perhaps if I understood more of what was going on under Pinochet’s rule I would have been drawn in more but unfortunately that did not happen.
Tony Manero was the first movie that just did not succeed for me at TIFF. I do think it will play a bit better for those who fully understand the culture and history of Chile but as a general movie goer I’m going to say give this one a pass.
I had no idea what I was heading into when I sat down for my first movie during TIFF 08, With only a few exceptions all of the movies I had selected to see were starting to blend together. Prior to Zift starting the director, Javor Gardev talked about how the film is a film noir and after the movie during the Q&A he mentioned how rare genre film is in Bulgaria. He talked about how he hopes that Bulgaria will see a growth in genre cinema and I hope that he is right. While Zift suffers from a few of the problems that most small budget films have it fully succeeds on being an intriguing modern noir.
The title Zift refers to a black gummy substance that poor in Bulgaria chew. The closest substance in North America would be chewing tobacco, Moth of the movie is a convict who is let out of jail with only the clothes on his back a few dollars and the ball of Zift which he immediately takes a bite of even though it is years old. Immediately after his release he is picked up by two Bulgarian soldiers who take him to a basement where he is stripped nude. He is strapped to a table and then tortured by his old partner who wants to know the whereabouts of the diamond from the robbery for which he was incarcerated. Moth refuses to divulge the secret saying that he doesn’t know. The partner, now a Bulgarian official tells Moth that he has poisoned him and that only way he will get the antidote is to divulge the location. Eventually Moth escapes and we end up with a story the has all the classic noir trappings. Moth finds out he is indeed poisoned and he proceeds to track down his old girlfriend in order to find their son’s grave while wanting revenge on his ex partner.
Zift really could fall into being just a stereotypical film noir but Gardev manages to keep this from happening by introducing us to an interesting supporting cast and some very rousing scenes which use traditional music to great benefit. From Moth’s one eyed cell mate down to the pretzel eating soldier and finally the drunks at the local tavern we are presented with almost a surreal world for Moth’s story to take place in.
My only real complaint with Zift is that a couple of the special effects looked very unrealistic but as this was a fairly low budget film from a country without a large movie industry I am more than willing to overlook this. It is interesting to note that of the three or so times that CGI was in use there was one scene which completely fulled me and during the Q&A I even asked how they pulled off the shot only to find that it was simply done with CGI.
A good sign for any mystery or thriller is when the audience lets out a huge “oh” when climax and solution is presented. From where I was sitting I heard half the audience let out their “oh” when we discover if there really is a diamond. All in all I have to say that Zift is a strong entry into the noir genre and I am looking forward to seeing more from both Bulgaria and also Gardev himself.
Director: Javor Gardev
North American Premiere
Synopsis: The Moth is freed on parole after spending time in prison on wrongful conviction of murder. Jailed shortly before the Bulgarian communist coup of 1944, he now finds himself in a new and alien world – the totalitarian Sofia of the 60s. His first night of freedom draws the map of a diabolical city full of decaying neighbourhoods, gloomy streets and a bizarre parade of characters.
Director: Tom Shu-Yu Lin
North American Premiere
Synopsis: Yen, Tang and their gang of baseball-loving friends are in their last year of high school when a scandal involving their beloved sport takes the nation by storm. With one fatal misstep, they will learn how fragile life can be, how delicate their friendship really is and how much courage they’ll need to face the adult world.
Director: Brian Goodman
Synopsis: Childhood friends Paulie (Ethan Hawke) and Brian (Mark Ruffalo) grew up looking out for each other in their Irish-Catholic neighbourhood in South Boston. Trapped in a cycle of gangs, gangsters and shady crime, they are constantly dodging local turf wars and the watchful eye of an encroaching police detective (Donnie Wahlberg). But with Brian’s wife (Amanda Peet) growing increasingly distraught by her husband’s lifestyle, will the tried and tested friendship between these two Southies crumble once and for all?
Director: Hajime Kadoi
Synopsis: A middle-aged prison guard, Hirai follows an alienated work routine of strict rules and arduous duties, attending to death row’s model inmate, Kaneda. When Kaneda’s execution order is signed by the minister of justice, Hirai has the unexpected opportunity for a week of vacation. But there is a price to pay for this well-deserved break, as Hirai must assist Kaneda during his final moments.
Director: Sergey Dvortsevoy
Synopsis: Coming Soon
Director: Pablo Larraín
Synopsis: Coming Soon
Director: Matthew Newton
Synopsis: Coming Soon