TIFF is still raging but most journalists are now running on fumes, including me! And NYFF press screenings start next week. Give me strength! I know I know... you're waiting on writeups for Oscar hopefuls like The Railway Man, Gravity, and Twelve Years a Slave which is A LOT to get through still in the next few days but here are two films from Norway and Canada which I wanted to discuss. They both pit wounded unraveling men against themselves and each other for our viewing pleasure.
Paranoia thrillers aren't really my cuppa as movie genres go but this not so distant history expose drama from Norway is just gripping. It deals in part with the American and Norwegian battle over oil drilling contracts and pipeline off Norway's massive jagged coast. Not So Spoiler Alert: Norway won making it one of the wealthiest nations in the world. But the political history is the setting rather than the focus, as we follow one diver Petter (Askel Hennie) who gets caught up in the unethical goings on which happen to have a body count. Not-So-Spoiler Alert 2: Big Oil is corrupt business no matter what flag it's flying under.
It helps quite a lot that Pioneer's opening sequence is just superb, with tensions and character detail already in media res as we meet an American diver (Wes Bentley) squaring off with the Norwegian brothers (Hennie & André Erikson) he's competing with for a trial diving mission. The men are being tested for the ability to withstand the unwithstandable oceanic pressure situations and scientists look on and experiment with the air they're breathing to see what keeps them functioning and alive. Soon they're hallucinating. When their first mission begins, the movie gets even more tense with some of the alien beauty of the James Cameron filmography elevating its underwater sequences. Once we've come up for air, shaken and much worse for the wear, the movie levels off into more familiar paranoia thriller tropes but it's so moodily lit, engagingly scored (by Air!), and slippery with the shady 'who can he possibly trust?' twists, that I didn't care and by then I was already well-hooked. The American actors (Stephen Lang, already totally typecast as the "this is a dangerous mission and I am secretly evil!" guy -- I've seen him do it like 3 times recently, and Wes Bentley) aren't half as subtle as the Norwegian stars which makes for some weird cartoon vs. human tonal shifting within scenes but it's good and very accessible filmmaking. It's still in the running towards becoming Norway's next top Oscar nominee. B+
P.S. Speaking of Oscar submissions, Mexican actress Stephanie Sigman, Miss Bala herself, plays one of the divers wives and speaks Norwegian in the film. Who knew?
Take Jake Gyllenhaal's lonely OCD decoder in Zodiac and bring along his evocative cinematography and color palette. Split him in two with one version schlumpy and Adam Goldberg like (out of date reference?) and the other cockier like Gosling on a motorbike. Mix in Eyes Wide Shut's plinking/cagey 'sex party'. Plop it down to in Talent Agency and University settings as nondescript/sterile as the stockbroker firm in American Psycho and throw a curveball with inexplicable Video-Store detours from ye olden times. Stir it all together for a Franz Kafka stew. Add a little sprinkling of Isabella Rossellini, and a final glaze of blonde love interests (Melanie Laurent & Sarah Gadon) who are both confusingly disappointed; You're sleeping with Gyllenhall, ladies. Cheer the fuck up!
Do all that and you might get this eery, compelling, off putting, possibly slight but mercifully tight (90 minutes. Huzzah!) cinematic adaptation of Jose Saramago's "The Double". I kinda dug it but I have no idea if it's any good or what happened or where I am anymore and what aiiiiiiiieeeeeeee that last sound/shot. WTF
Podcast a group discussion of TIFF 13: Oscar buzz, our favorite films, and more
Ambition & Self Sabotage on Gravity and Eleanor Rigby: Him & Her
Quickies Honeymoon, Young & Beautiful, Belle
Labor Day in a freeze-frame nutshell
Jessica Chastain at the Eleanor Rigby Premiere
August Osage County reactions Plus Best Picture Nonsense
Rush Ron Howard's crowd pleaser
The Past from Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi & Cannes Best Actress Berenice Bejo
Queer Double Feature: Tom at the Farm and Stranger by the Lake
Boogie Nights Live Read with Jason Reitman and Friends
First 3 Screenings: Child's Pose, Unbeatable and Isabelle Huppert in Abuse of Weakness
TIFF Arrival: Touchdown in Toronto. Two unsightly Oscars