Wow, how these past ten days have flown by! I’ve screened thirty-eight films and conducted two interviews, as well as attending five press conferences. I have to say that without a doubt, this year’s selection of films has to be one of the strongest yet! I can honestly say that I haven’t seen one dud. Of course, there was the usual orgy of parties, but I chose to concentrate on the film/interview side of things this year, and from past experiences, I’ve found that it’s hard to do that while going party hopping the night before. The stars were out and could be found all over Toronto (I spotted Halle Berry on John St. nonchalantly carrying her baby and barely noticed by most walking on the street), not just around the festival hub. It still amazes me as to how short a lot of the male actors actually are, and how amenable most of them are if you manage to get to them before their handlers intercept. Kudos to Piers Handling, Cameron Bailey, and everyone associated with this year’s festival. I’m already looking forward to next year’s celebration!
REBELLE - Kim Nguyen (Canada) this is a heart-wrenching portrayal of a young African child forced into joining a group of rebels fighting against government forces, in an unnamed African country, and the brutality she is forced to witness, and inflict. Young Komona, brilliantly brought to life by novice actor Rachel Mwanza (winner of the Best Actress award at Berlin), has her life turned upside down when rebel forces attack her village and forcibly recruit her. Held captive and brainwashed, she gradually succumbs, and eventually adjusts to her seemingly hopeless reality, along the way becoming somewhat more valuable because of the belief that she can see where government forces are located. She becomes friends with one of her captors named Magicien, wonderfully played by Serge Kanyinda, an albino who is believed to have magical powers and is one of the few people who has shown her any sympathy. Together they escape and travel the countryside seeking refuge, all the while trying to stay one step ahead of their former rebel captors. Although dealing with such harsh subject matter, Nguyen manages to somehow convey an elegant, courageous, and honest perspective of a still real and terrifying element of life in modern Africa that no child should have to endure. This one should make it all the way to an Oscar bid for best foreign language film.
THE PAPERBOY – Lee Daniels (USA) Based on a novel by Pete Dexter, Daniels has followed up on the success of Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire with this crime “noir-ish” tale of passion, southern sensibilities such as they were in 1969 Florida, racial realities, and a “whodunit” thrown in for good measure. Daniels has assembled a stellar cast led by Nicole Kidman, also starring Matthew McConaughey, John Cusack, David Oyelowo, Zac Efron, and Macy Gray, who acts as the narrator, detailing the sequence of events in retrospect. Gray works as the “help” for McConaughey’s character, Ward Jansen’s family, which also includes Efron as his younger brother Jack. Ward’s in town from Miami, where he’s a reporter for the Miami Times newspaper. He’s accompanied by his colleague Yardley (Oyelowo), who happens to be black. They’re writing an investigative piece on the murder of the town’s racist, corrupt, and hated sheriff, and the consequent conviction of Hillary Van Wetter (Cusack), whose a piece of work himself, for the murder. Things steam up when Van Wetter’s love interest Charlotte Bless (Kidman) arrives in town from Alabama. Kidman does an amazing turn as the “tramp-ish” Charlotte, who has a thing for criminals. The film is of course, infused with Daniels’ trademark “shock” scenes (Kidman urinating on Efron, amongst others), and it’s a real testament as to his growing reputation as an “actor’s director” that he seems to get total trust and commitment from his cast. The film received a mixed reaction at Cannes, which appears to be the case with most of his films. Ultimately, I think that this engaging tale of lust, betrayal, and racial dynamics works quite effectively, and further cements Daniels’ place as one of the top young filmmakers of his generation.
CLOUD ATLAS – Lana Wachowski/Tom Tykwer/Andy Wachowski (Germany) Any time you get the directors of The Matrix trilogy and Run Lola Run to collaborate on a film, chances are that it’s going to be visually stunning, if anything else. This film is visually stunning and smart. Adapted from the David Mitchell novel of the same title, that referenced time travel, reincarnation, as well as origins of religion, this is a multiple narrative masterwork of a film that one absorbs rather than watches. The directors (I’ll use that term for economy of words sake), have done an outstanding job in assembling the principal group of actors – Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, and Keith David -who are more than capable of pulling this off. This epic begins in the middle of the nineteenth century where we meet notary Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) journaling his voyage across the Pacific. From there we’re introduced to various characters in different time frames and locales, not only who are reincarnated from a past live, but are often recast in a different gender. The connections the characters have and develop with each other in their different life manifestations as experienced through the millennia can at times be confusing, but it’s well worth the effort. Notwithstanding the jaw dropping visuals, this may not be a film for those that like everything laid out for them. This film takes concentration and work, but the payoff is well worth the effort!
1. SMASHED – James Ponsoldt (USA) Rarely have I screened a film dealing with Alcohol/drug addiction and the solution that some find in AA, that doesn’t tend to either glamourize, misinterpret, or trivialize this disease and the recovery process. As well, a lot of the acting work from past films dealing with this situation misses the mark completely. Thankfully, SMASHED depicts this disease in an understated, yet still powerful way. This film maintains a realistic feel throughout, due in large part to the casting, Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) as Kate, Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) as Charlie, and Octavia Spencer (The Help) as Jenny, Mary’s AA sponsor, are all quite believable, but mainly because of Ponsoldt’s restraint. As someone who is, let us say, quite familiar with the alcoholism/addiction/recovery model as championed by AA, I must say that Ponsoldt has really done his homework. Chronicling Mary’s realization that she has a serious problem with alcohol, through her initial and early efforts at recovery, Winstead expertly portrays not only the obvious physical and emotional damage that is a main consequence of alcoholism, but the difficulties in facing a life of honesty and responsibility after the meltdown.
BAD 25 – Spike Lee (USA) with this documentary, Lee (an unabashed MJ fan) finally gets to pay homage to one of the music world’s most fascinating figures. The film focuses on the making of BAD, from the songs to the videos, as well as the involvement of the various video directors, musicians, sound engineers, and creative team that Jackson chose. Filled with rare and previously unseen footage, what really makes this film stand out is the wealth of insight that Lee has managed to acquire. It’s not just the genius and flood of creativity that Jackson was able to channel, but also getting the opportunity to witness how he processed this energy and was able to reach unimaginable artistic heights, while having his character and morality continuously assaulted. The only bad segments in the film, IMO, were when the narcissistic and self-centered Kanye West was onscreen and tried to make the film all….about….him. Don’t let that deter you from seeing this film though, because even if you aren’t a Jackson fan, after viewing this film, you’ll realize just how bad he was!
OTHER FILMS OF NOTE
AMOUR, A LATE QUARTET, THE HUNT, THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE, THE SAPHIRES, THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST, PAINLESS, THE ICEMAN, ILL MANORS, BAD 25, TO THE WONDER, VENUS AND SERENA, PASSION
FESTIVAL NIGHTS & SIGHTS
Spotted the delectable Halle Berry, (Cloud Atlas) on John St. sans make-up, carrying her daughter Nahla while taking a stroll…. director/actor Ben Affleck (Argo) caught a bit of flack because of the perceived downplaying of the role Ken Taylor, the Canadian ambassador to Iran ambassador at the time of the American hostage crisis, played in the freeing of the hostages…. From all indications, Snoop Lion’s “Reincarnated” after party at The Great Hall was smokin’, and I mean that in the literal sense of the word!
The Midnight Madness segment of the festival continues to impress, with “Seven Psychopaths” receiving massive buzz… the appearance of Johnny Depp at the “West of Memphis” red carpet sent female and male fans into a frantic mob rush… finally, the ubiquitous “swag salons” are now concentrating on environmentally friendly swag as opposed to the oftentimes garish luxury items given away during previous years.