Toronto International Film Festival ’11 – Day Eight: Freak Show Time

As this year’s TIFF winds down, some previously overshadowed films receive most of the attention. You can finally act on the buzz and watch the movies that have blown other critics’ away.

Anonymous

Although expensive and high profile, Anonymous wasn’t high on my list. Directed by Roland Emmerich -a filmmaker specialized in destroy the planet via aliens, earthquakes or climate change-, I imagined his foray onto historic drama would be similar to Michael Bay earnest Pearl Harbor.

Thankfully, I was partially wrong. Emmerich seems to have used all the money he made in films like Independence Day or 2012 and put it in this denunciation of William Shakespeare. According to Anonymous, Shakespeare was just a lowly actor who agreed to have his name used as a pseudonym. The real author of has ‘plays’ was the Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans), who also may have fathered a boy with Queen Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave).

The matter of Shakespeare as a fraud is a common concern among historians, but has never been settled due to lack of evidence one way or the other. You shouldn’t consider Anonymous to face value, but as source of entertainment. Only a man with Emmerich particular set of skills can portrait the XVI century with grandiosity. As usual in period dramas, the production design is sturdy, but I can’t remember CGI being used to depict London as it was 500 years ago. Three bloody knotty-paded prairie dogs.

Among horror films, the inmates-running-the-asylum subgenre is frequently underwhelming. Just think of The House in Haunted Hill, so low in gore and scares. Enter The Incident, a genuinely frightening flick that frequently demands to look away from the screen. A rock group in need of cash moonlights as cooks in a hospital for the criminally insane. The band is in crisis as the leader, George, is ditching the party lifestyle for a newfound maturity.

A fierce thunderstorm leaves the asylum with no electricity. Understaffed and with serious security glitches, guards and personnel are soon at the mercy of some seriously deranged criminals. With a likable protagonist and a strong mix of shocks, blood and psychological terror, the audience is sucked in. The best part about The Incident is that the inmates act as erratically and violently as they should (They are criminals! They are insane!) Teeth are used as weapons and the outcome is not pretty or clean. Four prairie dogs… why are they looking me like that?

After watching a few Scandinavian films, there is a pattern that may lead to a new stereotype to replace the abstract tendencies of Ingmar Bergman and his cronies: Cold, complex family relations lead to bursts of passion first and violence later. And regardless the magnitude of the harm, the end is most of the time a slightly askew return to the status quo. The Good Son (Finland) goes through every one of this beats without having anything to add to the formula. A renowned actress on the same league than Joan Crawford -insanity wise- hides in her cottage from a spat with her producer (don’t we all) with her two sons. The eldest, a sullen 17 year-old, is basically her social assassin, shielding the diva from the paparazzi to obnoxious dinner companions. But the manipulation hits a snag when a potential love interest is chased away by the overprotecting son.

The Good Son lacks sympathetic characters to empathize with. I don’t expect bunnies and rainbows, but if your protagonists are going to be unpleasant, at least let them be interesting. Furthermore, the treatment is so relaxed, the simmering tension is barely perceptible. Two prairie dogs mulling the unbearable lightness of being.

Speaking of very a specific crowd, Union Square seems made just for to people from the Bronx. Mira Sorvino is an obnoxious party girl who lands in her sister’s flat, uninvited. Said sibling forsook her family years ago, in pursuit of a more normal existence with her blue blood fiancé. Now that the past has come knocking, the sister must prevent her husband-to-be from finding out about her roots, a titanic task considering how abrasive Mira Sorvino can be. I mean her character.

Sorvino and co. play Bronx natives as if they were in Saturday Night Live (remember “Bronx Beat” with Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph? That’s the tone). Furthermore, the film could easily be turned into a play since director Nancy Savoca (Dogfight) barely takes advantage of the format or New York as location. One and a half dawgs, yo.

Tomorrow: The end.

Author: Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Journalist, film critic, documentary filmmaker, and sometimes nice guy. Member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. Like horror flicks, long walks on the beach and candlelight dinners. Allergic to cats.

2 thoughts on “Toronto International Film Festival ’11 – Day Eight: Freak Show Time”

  1. I remember from a radio broadcast 20ish years ago,the author (I think ), being interviewed, mentioned something to the effect that “Shakespeare” , was a consortium of 10-12 writers that wanted to remain anonymous, for political, religious,etc.. reasons.

    Sounds like a good movie.

  2. It certainly is. A more definitive work on the matter is Bill Bryson book “Shakespeare: The World as Stage”.

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