Midpoint at TIFF: Catnaps happening all around, people growing grouchier and the stars begin to lose some of their allure: I heard somebody complaining about Francis Ford Coppola hogging the elevator. Could have been me.
At this point, the hottest ticket is the one that involves free food (it’s amazing what passes for continental breakfast these days.) Just this morning I attended a breakfast with documentary filmmakers and the most memorable aspect of it wasn’t the presence of Morgan Spurlock or Joe Berlinger, but the caramelized ham.
Also, the tolerance to mediocre movies shrinks considerably, as you may notice on the review of the following five flicks I attended in the last twenty-four hours. I only fell asleep in two!
Shame: One of the best films of the festival so far, with Michael Fassbender delivering another mesmerizing role. Fassbender is Brandon, a successful businessman who can’t keep his zipper closed. His sex addiction interferes with his professional life only to a small degree, but signs of unraveling are popping out. The most impressive aspect of Shame is the absence of judgment. Sex addiction is treated as a symptom of emotional emptiness. Director Steve McQueen (no relation) -who already put Fassbender through hell in Hunger– loves silences and long takes, giving the film an unusual rhythm. A small mercy among so much misery: An evocative rendition of “New York, New York” courtesy of Carey Mulligan (side note: look for Mulligan’s collaboration with Belle & Sebastian “Write About Love”). Two pairs of prairie dogs. Uh, get the hose.
Dark Girls: Another film dealing with social malaise among African-Americans joins the terrific Pariah at TIFF. Dark Girls tackles the notion that lighter-blacks have it better than darker-blacks. Testimonies of African-American women who have endured discrimination within their own community mix with jaw-dropping statements from men discussing their stigma-based preference (there is something so wrong about the paper bag test). Adding insult to injury, the whitening cream industry pocketed 43 billion dollars just last year, mostly from products sold in Asia and Africa. The absence of possible solutions other than hoping for change hurts the film. Nevertheless, kudos for raising awareness. Three and a half prairie dogs.
Lovely Molly (or Sometimes, Retirement is Better): Director Eduardo Sánchez, one of the perpetrators of the low-budget smash hit The Blair Witch Project, returns ten years later with another handheld-camera heavy flick. It seems Sánchez watched Paranormal Activity and The Entity one too many times. The Molly of the title is a newlywed former junkie who moves back into her childhood home due to money problems (she doesn’t have any). Not that Molly has any good memories of the place: Her father assaulted her relentlessly until his death. Take a wild guess who is haunting the joint now. The film is alternatively boring and unpleasant, and uses all the clichés in the bag -the skeptic husband, the exorcist, some loud and unexpected noises- to zero effect. Also, you need a good actress to sell Molly’s predicament and newcomer Gretchen Lodge is no Barbara Hershey. One jumpy prairie dog.
Killer Joe (or Sometimes, Retirement is Better 2): There was a time the name William Friedkin was synonym of thrills (The French Connection) and chills (The Exorcist). That was forty years ago. Now, Friedkin’s name on the poster has no meaning, even though Killer Joe is a fairly high profile project for a has-been. The film follows the Fargo formula: When idiots hire weirdos to murder somebody, odds are the body count will be high. Texas hick Chris (Emile Hirsh) hires suave assassin Joe (Matthew McConaughey) to kill his mom and get his hands on her insurance money. Joe agrees to a delayed payment, as long as he gets Chris’ sister (Juno Temple) as collateral. If you want to watch five awful people behaving stupidly for two hours, be my guest, but even for a Pulp Fiction knock-off Killer Joe comes short (not to mention over a decade late). McConaughey’s efforts to come up a pervert are laughable, but I’ll give him a ‘C’ for effort. Two prairie dogs in a Mexican standoff.
The Eye of the Storm: The older high-brow crowd is regularly underserved at film festivals (edgy is often mistaken for good). The Eye of the Storm is the token nod to them. The impending death of their mother brings the high-strung Hunter children back to Australia. The older, Basil (Geoffrey Rush), is a pompous actor who can’t stop performing, even in front of his family. The younger, Dorothy (Judy Davis), is an impoverished aristocrat who nurses a lasting bitterness towards the Hunter matriarch (Charlotte Rampling). Strong performances and witty dialogue fail to make The Eye of the Storm remotely compelling, especially if you haven’t hit menopause. Director Fred Schepisi (Roxanne) could easily cut half an hour of this flick and nobody would miss it. It’s unfortunate, considering there is so much to be said about grown children dealing with the passing of their progenitors. Two yawning prairie dogs.
Tomorrow I’ll be interviewing Rush and Rampling, still smoking hot at 64. Eat your heart out, Helen Mirren.