Toronto International Film Festival – Day Two: Attack of the Clones

I’m dispatching a little earlier than usual as I’m heading to the Mongrel TIFF party. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you stuff you are not supposed to know.

Day Two was considerably superior to the opening. Three strong American films made their debut, two of which are likely to be Oscar nominated. The third is likely to sit in the middle of Woody Allen’s filmography: Not bad, not amazing.

Charles Ferguson, the filmmaker who did such a superior job explaining the Iraq quagmire in “No End in Sight”, attempts to do the same with the financial collapse of 2008. “Inside Job” is a tough pill to swallow. Despite Ferguson commendable efforts to make sense of it, the subprime mortgage crisis demands a lot from the public. It doesn’t escape Ferguson that Wall Street is actually counting on this widespread ignorance to get away with murder.

I won’t go into details about the chain of events that caused the recession we are still enduring, but the info is likely to trigger your righteous anger. The incestuous relationship between the investment banks and the White House –no matter the administration- is seriously disturbing. Even more disgusting, it seems everybody -starting with Alan Greenspan- was aware the economic model exploited by Wall Street was not sustainable.

“Inside Job” logic is incontestable. Charles Ferguson goes further than Michael Moore in “Capitalism: A Love Story” because he doesn’t need bombastic statements to make his point. This allows him access to sources that would never speak to the director of “Fahrenheit 9/11”. “Inside Job” also investigates the most prestigious university faculties to discover ethics is not high in the curriculum. I’ll meet Ferguson on Sunday. I hope I won’t come out as a rube. Four bankrupt Prairie Dogs.

“You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger”, Woody Allen’s latest flick is bound to be polarizing. As in the underrated “Whatever Works”, Allen’s theme is the pursuit of happiness. Two deeply unhappy couples go on separate ways in order to satisfy their extremely selfish cravings. Anthony Hopkins marries a much younger former escort, his ex (Gemma Jones) finds solace in a clairvoyant who is more of a people pleaser than a true psychic. Their daughter (Naomi Watts) entertains the possibility of an affair with a married man (Antonio Banderas), while her husband (Josh Brolin) amuses himself ogling the hot number across the street.

It takes a while for “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” to get going. In fact, such meandering pace makes you wonder if this is a point somewhere. But midway through, the movie hits a stride and eventually leaves the audience with the following message: The happiest people on Earth are also the most delusional. Even for Woody Allen parameters, the ending is extremely open. Then again, so it’s life. Three Prairie Dogs.

Based on the best seller by Kazuo Ishiguro, “Never Let Me Go” seems designed to become Oscar bait. With a cast full of British up and comers (Carey Mulligan, the new Spider-Man Andrew Garfield, Sally Hawkins), the film does a nice job synthesizing Ishiguro’s novel, although its emotional charge gets lost in translation

There is a big spoiler that’s unavoidable, so if you want to remain in the dark, stop reading now. Tommy, Kathy and Ruth attend Hailsham, a charming boarding school that encourages their artistic inclinations and protect their innocence.

Before you start thinking “Oh, like Hogwarts”, it must be said all the students at Hailsham are clones, whose sole purpose in life is to serve as donors shortly into adulthood. At school, they are indoctrinated into believing whatever they are told to prevent them from fighting their destiny. To make the bleak subject more palatable, there is a love triangle: The evident affection Kathy (Mulligan) and Tommy (Garfield) feel for each other is thwarted by Ruth (Keira Knightley) not one to be outdone by a wallflower like Kathy. The conflict begins during childhood and makes it all the way into the bitter end.

It sounds sci-fi, but it’s anything but. The big themes the film touches -what does it mean to be human? Is art a window to the soul? Is life without hope worth living? – are extremely compelling ideas, but “Never Let Me Go” comes short in its effort to translate such abstract concerns into relatable drama. Something that still bothers me is why escaping is not a possibility. Maybe the answer is in the book. Three and a half cloned Prairie Dogs.

Tomorrow, the latest of Stephen Frears, Ben Affleck sophomore effort as director, and meeting Josh Brolin.

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.