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Entries in film festivals (329)

Saturday
Sep192015

TIFF: Anomalisa, Victoria, Youth. Is one pass enough?

Herewith three of the most distinctive films from TIFF. The only problem is: I'm not sure what I think of them. How often does that happen to you at the movies: walking out, unable to answer the question of "did I like it? was it good?" Some movies just refuse to settle quickly. Or, they're hard to parse in the film festival setting (due to seeing so many movies back to back). Which is to say that I'm going to need more time with each of these. All three are familiar and alien at once and, in their dissimilar ways, ambitious. All three are beautifully made... yet at this writing, I have trouble imagining the desire to watch any of them a second time. (Well, no. I'd like to see Youth again)

ANOMALISA (Duke Johnson & Charlie Kaufman, US)
Though I was a critical holdout on the oft revered miserabilist Synecdoche New York -- in which I learned that I most definitely prefer Kaufmann as a screenwriter than as a director -- I was eager to see this. That anticipation was partially for the novelty aspects. It's a stop motion film with many characters but with only three voice actors. The similar voices serve the plot in an obvious conceptual way when you're watching it (which I won't spoil) but they also indirectly expose the monotony and limits of a singular POV and male gaze, in this case Kaufmann's. The story involves a gray-haired customer service guru of some reknown, deeply unhappy and ready to cheat on his wife during a one night stay in a Cincinatti hotel. There are a few indisputably grand jokes, some stale ones (hotel room keys that don't work. hahaha) and moving beats within the discomfort and laughter. There's even a Jennifer Jason Leigh singing Cyndi Lauper sequence that's sublime. But there's also a feeling of "and...?" about the whole effort and even "why is this animated?" since it only becomes surreal a couple of times. At only 90 minutes this is stretched thin, given that some of the sequences play out in what painfully feels like real time like the businessman's cab to and check in at the hotel. I'm mystified by the "MASTERPIECE!" excitement around it but Kaufman's work is always worth mulling over. 

[Crass Oscar Note as I'm sure Kaufman had no interest in Oscars when he was making this: the critical hosannas Anomalisa was greeted with followed by the news that it would Oscar qualify this year led a lot of armchair pundits to think Inside Out suddenly has real competition for the Animated Oscar. That is not the case. This is too strange and dispiriting and even too dull to take the gold though the critical reception could certainly help it to a nomination if they'd like to acknowledge that animation isn't only for kids -- this one is entirely for adults given its themes and the animated sex scenes.] 

VICTORIA (Sebastian Schipper, Germany)
Victoria (Laia Costa) is a lonely barista from Spain who has spent three months in Berlin. She still doesn't know anyone when one night out dancing she meets drunk but charming Sonne (Frederick Lau) and three of his drunk up-to-no-good friends. Thus begins an unbroken 132 minute long continuous shot as we follow Victoria in real time through her inebriated misadventures. Schipper, who started as an actor (he's in many of Tom Tykwer's films), gets natural work from his entire cast who are all speaking rough English since that's their only common language. You truly feel like you're there with Victoria and her new friends on a neverending night you know you'll always remember. Or you'll hope to forget; parties can't last forever and one foolish decision can lead to another and another and soon you're in way too deep. Schipper and his technical team deserve all the praise they've received for this absolute technical triumph -- not only was the film all shot in one take, it's pulled off without a visible hitch, and it feels artful but effortless too since there are well timed musical breaks of one sort or another (including a phenomenal piano scene) and the lack of cuts only escalates the tension. The film has an inexorable energy since you don't feel you can escape. You're with Victoria and her German buddies until the end. But do you want to be? This is a grueling sit from the tension and eventual violence and the two hour plus running time so it's hard to imagine watching it a second time. Still, immersive film experiences like this are all too rare. 

Caine and Keitel spy on a tryst in the woods

YOUTH (Paolo Sorrentino, Italy)
An easier sit than Sorrentino's Oscar winning The Great Beauty but then it is half as long! Like that film, this one features amazing gilded tableaus and wealthy lost souls. We also get sharp performances from well loved Oscar-winners (Michael Caine, Jane Fonda, Rachel Weisz) and movie troupers (Harvey Keitel and Paul Dano), all of them getting at least one showcase moment. Youth has some truly vivid sequences / images but does it all cohere? I'm not sure that it does: It's covering a lot of ground very quickly and its many diversions, both fanciful, humorous, or sad are highly uneven. At a hotel/spa retreat for the rich and famous, the characters all come together: Caine is a retired legendary composer staving off requests to conduct again with his personal assistant daughter (Weisz); Dano (in a strange bit of casting) plays a sad movie star who hates his fans and the film he's best known for;  Keitel is a famous director whose work is not what it used to be. Jane Fonda appears in a much-showcased cameo as a legendary movie star diva. (That the movie is about aging showbiz types certainly won't hurt its Oscar chances given the Academy's demographics). Sorrentino seems to be borrowing from Fellini again and a friend of mine groaned about a scene involving a telescope in which Keitel pontificates on the different between youth and old age -- but I personally loved the scene. (Perhaps you have to be middle age or older to feel it though it's easy enough to "get") The movie may be chalk full of faux profundities like that one but better surface beauty and trying to say too much than drab looking movies with only one or two things to say.

 Grades: TBA

Wednesday
Sep162015

TIFF: Jake Gyllenhaal in "Demolition"

This review originally appeared in abridged version in Nathaniel's column at Towleroad

All throughout Demolition, which opened the 40th annual Toronto International Film Festival which closes this coming Sunday, new widower Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) is putting the title into action. His wife has just died, he is convinced he feels nothing about it, and he begins to tear things down and scatter their parts about. The general idea is ‘take something apart to see how it all fits together’ but he doesn’t bother with the fitting back together part.

He’s also demolitioning his own life, of course, in the process. This peculiar destructive streak starts out small with his morning routine. At first, in montage, this includes lots of preening and shaving (including his chest. *sniffle*) to turn him into a smooth starched and well dressed executive but it’s quickly abandoned. Cue: sexy scruff and increasingly erratic behavior. (Unfortunately we are not shown the return of the chest hair. Stingy move, movie!)

Everything has become a metaphor…”

…Davis intones in the middle of the picture to his confused and impatient boss and father-in-law (Chris Cooper), as an attempt to explain his new and frankly worrisome headspace. But he’s right. Everything is a metaphor in Demolition and thus, apart from Gyllenhaal’s work, the movie sparked polarized reactions. More...

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Sep162015

TIFF: Kate Winslet Goes Couture in 'The Dressmaker'

Glenn here. I'm not in Toronto (booo!), but I did get to see this homegrown film recently so let's talk about The Dressmaker. This is a film that makes a lot better sense when the end credits roll and you realize that director Jocelyn Moorhouse co-wrote the screenplay with her husband, none other than P.J. Hogan. It makes sense because The Dressmaker, despite the refinement suggested by its prestige audience-courting title, is kinda crazy. It is a buoyantly excessive feat of far-fetched camp that isn’t as good as its highly-stylized cinematic cousins of the early 1990s such as Strictly Ballroom, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and Hogan’s own Muriel’s Wedding, yet which nonetheless has enough of a unique voice to work as a very Australian piece of crowd-pleasuring fluff. It’s the cinematic equivalent of Betsy Johnson designing an haute couture line for Dior. [more...]

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Sep132015

Venice Film Festival Winners

Manuel here. It’s that time of year when it’s hard to keep track of festivals, juries, awards and red carpets. Thankfully, here at TFE we keep you covered on all of the above. While we wait for more reviews out of TIFF, Alfonso Cuarón’s Venice Film Festival jury (which as José singled out had striking fashionistas in its midst) handed out their awards.

From Afar first-time director, Lorenzo Vigas

The big news, if you’re an American Oscar pundit, is that Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl was shunned (gasp!) but if you’re an avid festival goer interested in finding plenty of foreign titles to add to your must-see list of films, the big news was that it was a great day for Latin American cinema with the Golden and Silver Lion going to films from my very own part of the world.

Oh, and Charlie Kaufman’s collaboration with Duke Johnson (the bonkers sounding Anomalisa) won the Grand Jury Prize. Check out the full list below. (Links take you to the Biennale's film descriptions)

Golden Lion: From Afar, Lorenzo Vigas

Silver Lion, Best Director: Pablo Trapero, The Clan

Grand Jury Prize: Anomalisa, dirs: Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson

Anomalisa is a stop-motion picture that was partially funded through Kickstarter

Volpi Cup, Best Actor: Fabrice Luchini, L’Hermine

Volpi Cup, Best Actress: Valeria Golino, Per Amor Vostro

Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best New Young Actor or Actress: Abraham Attah, Beasts Of No Nation

Netflix's film is off to a fine start with this festival bow

Best Screenplay: Christian Vincent, L’Hermine

Special Jury Prize: Frenzy, dir: Emin Alper

Vigas's debut (!) film is the first Latin American film to be awarded The Golden Lion. That it is also an LGBT May-December story just makes it all the more exciting. Overall, Cuarón and his jury (which also included Pawel Pawlikowski, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Diane Kruger, Lynne Ramsay, Francesco Munzi, Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Elizabeth Banks) look like they made bold choices. Any of them spark your curiosity?

Friday
Sep112015

Red Carpet: A Couture Splash at Venice and Meh for TIFF

Diane Kruger wears L-R: Oscar de la Renta, BOSS, Cushnie et Ocs, Prada

Jose here with a very important question: can you imagine deigning to be the film that plays in a theater where Diane Kruger is dressed looking like she always does? Not only does she usually make a case for being the one human being worthy of Best Cinematography awards, she must also distract fellow audience members who can't resist but admire her, rather than see whatever's happening onscreen. The exquisite fashionista has once again been leaving her mark at the Venice Film Festival where she's also serving as a Jury member. First she dazzles in bold Oscar de la Renta, then she's "boss" in BOSS (hardy har-har) and is so confident in the beauty of her dress that she doesn't even bother doing her hair (hats off!), then she lets her hair down in a stunning Cushnie et Ocs jumpsuit, and she finishes off in regal Prada which she wore to the premiere of Everest. Can we now start a campaign to have her be in every Jury for every film festival ever? 

But Diane wasn't the only one giving fashiongasms in Venice! Another Jury member left me speechless. Find out who it is after the jump (and no, it's not Alfonso Cuarón...) 

Click to read more ...