Report from Toronto International Film Festival - Day 5
29th Sep 08
Another morning, another schedule clash. This time fatigue won out - I couldn't face sitting through the four-and-a-half hours of Steven Soderbergh's Che (both parts playing back to back here) that was starting at 9am, no matter how good it might be, so instead I opted for a more sedate start to the day meeting up with Bruce for the 10.30am screening of Synecdoche, New York.
Emily Watson and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Synecdoche, New York
I remember hearing from some quarters after its Cannes premiere that Synecdoche, New York (pronounced sin-eck-doh-kee) was an impenetrable movie, but I was curious to see what bizarreness Charlie Kaufman could come up with for his directorial debut after his clever screenplays for Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. It starts off straightforward enough; Caden (Philip Seymour Hoffman, excellent as always) is a hypochondriac playwright with family problems. When his wife leaves him, taking their daughter with her to Berlin, Caden channels all of his energy into a new play in which he aims to recreate parts of his own life. With the set taking shape in a huge warehouse, Caden holds auditions for all the major players in his life, with Tom Noonan taking on the role of himself. As the film - and the play – progresses, events get more and more abstract as characters start to interact with their real life counterparts, and more actors are hired to play the actors playing the characters. Confused? You will be!
Open to many different interpretations, I took the film to be a meditation on death with a simple message to grab every moment that you have. It's certainly a serious, quite morbid film in contrast to the wild humour of Kaufman's previous material, although that's not to say it's without moments of levity. A bold and original film, Synecdoche, New York is light years from the mainstream and will likely be a tough sell for its distributor.
Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler
After trying to figure out what we'd just seen over a delicious hotdog, Bruce took one look at the queue for The Wrestler and bailed, leaving me to join the rapidly growing crowd on my own - after winning the Golden Lion at Venice the previous week, this was one film that I (and many others) did not want to miss. Randy 'The Ram' Robinson (Mickey Rourke) is an ex-professional wrestler, down on his luck and scraping a living on the local circuit. Years of physical and substance abuse have taken their toll on his ailing body and his only friends are his fellow wrestlers and a local stripper (Marisa Tomei) who he visits at his local bar.
After the mis-step of The Fountain director Darren Aronofsky comes back fighting with arguably his best work to date. The Wrestler is no big, flashy Hollywood exercise but instead an intimate character study captured for much of the time by hand held cameras, giving the film an almost documentary feel. It's a career best performance from Rourke too in a role you feel that he was born to play. His dignified portrayal of 'The Ram' had me choking back the tears, especially in the scenes with his estranged daughter played by Evan Rachel Wood. It's a truly surprising film that never panders to cliché and pitches itself perfectly throughout - more awards will surely follow.
With not a moment to spare after The Wrestler I had to immediately dash to the next screen where Sauna had just begun. Billed in the programme as simultaneously recalling the films of Andrei Tarkovsky and Eli Roth, Antti-Jussi Annila's follow up to Jade Warrior is a curious beast indeed. Set in 1595 at the end of the brutal war between Sweden and Russia, two Finnish brothers are travelling through Sweden as part of a group commissioned to mark out the border between the two countries. Taking shelter in a small village and haunted by a cruel act that they committed, they seek to wash away their sins in the ominous looking sauna that sits out in the woods, unaware of the dark force that awaits them there.
Beautifully shot, Sauna is great to look at but hard to penetrate, all talk and no action. It's a fascinating play on the genre that some of my peers really appreciated, but unfortunately I struggled to find a way in and it did absolutely nothing for me. Definitely one for the arthouse crowd, regular genre fans should be advised to approach with caution.
Edward Norton in Pride And Glory
After a much needed food break I was back at the Varsity for the much heralded preview of Pride And Glory starring A-listers Edward Norton and Colin Farrell. A police procedural thriller in the same vein as Dark Blue and Street Kings this was another of those 'loyalty to the force' versus 'loyalty to the family' scenarios. Ray (Norton) is called in to solve the death of several officers in NYC and his investigations uncover corruption within the precinct which point the finger at both his brother Francis (Noah Emmerich) and his brother-in-law Jimmy (Farrell).
There are no surprises in Pride And Glory, it's a retread of the same old material that we've been peddled time and time again and director Gavin O'Connor brings nothing new to the genre, just the same old tired blue/grey hue and an air of self-importance. Farrell - so charismatic in In Bruges earlier this year - goes through the motions here and Norton is also cruising on auto-pilot. His powerhouse roles in the likes of American History X, Fight Club and The 25th Hour are fast becoming overshadowed by a series of bland performances. Don't waste your time on this one.
The Midnight Madness bloggers – Darryl, Robert and Sanjay
After the disappointment of Pride And Glory I bumped into Bruce and Mitch outside who asked if I wanted to try and blag into the Magnolia party with them as they both had invites. A tempting offer, but I declined as I really didn't want to miss the evening's Midnight Madness selection, Acolytes. Down at the Ryerson I caught up with my blogger pals and we chatted to director Jon Hewitt outside the venue as the audience filed in. A likeable, straight-talking Aussie, Hewitt had brought along some goodies to give away including some exclusive poster artwork, a promo CD of the film's soundtrack and his entire body of early work downloaded onto a memory stick - a nice haul for one lucky fan at the post-screening Q&A.
Jon Hewitt at the Acolytes premiere
In Acolytes three high school students uncover the body of a Canadian backpacker buried in the woods. Mark (Sebastian Gregory) had spotted a black SUV driving away from the scene, so they're able to track down the vehicle back to their quiet residential suburb and identify the perpetrator, a seemingly normal guy with a wife and family. Mark decides to use this knowledge to blackmail the secretive serial killer (played with suitable menace by Joel Edgerton) into taking revenge on Parker, a local bully just released from prison who abused the teens a few years earlier. It’s a very, very naive move which places the three of them in even greater danger.
Acolytes transcends its modest budget by having a strong script full of unexpected twists and a believable cast of young actors who, for once, aren't five years older than the characters they're playing. Hewitt, shooting with a Viper digital camera, captures it all in glorious CinemaScope and the cinematography is particularly impressive. Factor in a cool soundtrack of up-and-coming Aussie bands and you've got yourself an entertaining and effective shocker. Following on from Deadgirl earlier in the week, Acolytes is further proof that should you ever stumble across dead body it's best to keep moving and leave well alone!
Synecdoche, New York screens at the London Film Festival on 28th & 29th October.
Pride And Glory screens at the London Film Festival on 24th October.
Acolytes screens at London’s Raindance Film Festival on 8th October.
For more information on TIFF including the Midnight Madness blogs please visit www.tiff08.ca.