TIFF 2012

September 18, 2012

I went for a daytime pass this year for TIFF—20 tickets for films starting before 5:01pm—and if it hadn’t been for a couple unscheduled visits to the ER (this isn’t that kind of blog, sorry, suffice it to say I’m fine) I would have seen about 18 films. As it happened, I only saw eight, but that was plenty.

These are the ones worth talking about for one reason or another.

Smashed was a small American film with one and a half indelible performances. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays an elementary school teacher who drinks. A lot. In the morning, afternoon, and evening. When she pukes into a garbage can in front of room of six-year-olds and lies about being pregnant, the lies her life is built on begin to catch up to her. Aaron Paul plays the equally alcoholic husband. It could have been a messagey downer, but it was small and the two leads played their roles with understated honesty. Pretty good script, too. It was my favorite film at the fest.

I had high expectations of Berberian Sound Studiowhich was supposed to be a strange and funny film about an Italian analog sound studio and the British sound engineer whose expertise is sought for making the sound effects to a horror movie. But it was drawn out and bizarrely experimental and the story was eaten up by the imagery, which got to be plain odd. I like experimental film—jeepers, I like Stan Brakhage—but it seemed pointless, and a shivery little performance by Toby Jones is wasted.

Viggo Mortensen, the man even many women want to be, is fantastic in Everybody Has a Plan, in which he plays twins and speaks perfect Argentine Spanish. (It’s an Argentinian film subtitled in English.) One brother lives in a strange, swampy delta in the waters off of Buenos Aires with its own social structure and rules, and where he is a shadowy character; the other is a respectable pediatrician in the city. When the brother in the delta dies, the other takes his place and uses cunning and silence to assume his twin’s life. The reasons for the switch are shrouded in mystery; Mortensen’s doctor twin is a troubled man with a walled-off pysche. Very clever, very dark, and Viggo is amazing. He’s probably the best actor of his generation, and a renaissance man. When I hear the Dos Equis commercials on the radio, I think of Viggo. Viggo, if you’re reading this, I have a script for you.

Eddie Garcia in Bwakaw

Bwakaw (pronounced Bwa•hhow) was a very entertaining, oddball entry, about a gay man coming to the end of his life, and his dog. And some of the strange people around him. The main character, Rene, is played by one of the Phillipine’s most famous actors, Eddie Garcia. His gay man, who only came out at age sixty, is now retired from the post office, although he still shows up for work. Alone, but self-sufficient, a curmudgeon but still capable of great feeling, Garcia’s Rene is a complicated man. When he falls in love with a younger, straight man, the main emptiness of his life is thrown into sharp contrast. That storyline is funny and heartbreaking, but the supporting cast wants to be in La Cage Aux Folles, and too much of the secondary plots are played for broad laughter, which is too bad. The movie needed slightly less flaming and a little more heat, but Garcia is incredible and so is the mutt who gives the film its title.

Iceman has a performance by one of the best actors of his generation, Michael Shannon. Shannon’s been around forever (he was in Groundhog Day!), but Boardwalk Empire, as well as the film Take Shelter, have made him a household name. He’s everywhere now, anywhere they want a lumbering brute to play to type or against type, so he’s pretty flexible. He was soft and terrified in Take Shelter, as he often is in Boardwalk, but here he’s a quiet demon, a man who murders first for the pleasure of it, and then for the mob. His family knows nothing about his secret life, and he’s almost always a great father and husband. Based on the real-life story of Richard Kuklinski, the Jersey mob murderer, the film is often darkly funny in ways that make you feel like there’s a spark of the inhuman living in you if you can laugh at some of the things this film finds funny. That’s what equally fascinating and difficult about the film: the uncomfortable laughter. Shannon is very good, but the supporting cast is mediocre, including a turn by the sadly uncastable David Schwimmer, who can’t hide his voice behind a squirrely beard. Winona Ryder is brittle and interesting, but the film makes a sap of her, as Kuklinski did in real life.

At Any Price, a father-son drama set against the new realities of American corn farming, wanted to be a hard-hitting drama about the new agricultural realities, but it was a paint-by-numbers family saga that used the horrifying backdrop of modern farming to tell a dull, Biblical story about manhood. Dennis Quaid, who I always want to like more than I do, has to act a pretty bad script, with a pretty bad podunky accent. Zac Ephron is about as convincing as his Ripley’s wax statues, but then again, there wasn’t much to work with. Which is too bad, because someone should rip corn a new asshole.

… like Marcus Imhoof rips industrial honey a new one in More Than Honey, a pretty satisfying documentary about bees. The fate of bees is the fate of all life, although you’ve never really looked at it that way probably. Without bees, we have no tree fruits, including nuts. Einstein once said after bees die off, mankind will follow in four years. Sounds plausible, and lately, bees have been dying off in scary numbers. Industrial beekeeping is part of the problem, as is monocultural tree-fruit farming. Theoretically, it’s daunting, but then Imhoof shows you Chinese migrant workers hand-pollinating almond trees in a part of China where there are no more bees, and the profound horror is borne in on you. Even hundreds of people dabbing imported pollen onto pistils can’t do the work billions of bees do. There are some more disturbing things about this film, not least of which is the stunning inner-hive photography which gives you close-ups of larvae in their cells, and female bees blurping honey out of their gullets and into storage. Mmmm, sweet bee barf. A quite brilliant film that doesn’t answer every question it seems to ask, including how humans are going to rebuild hive cultures internationally to ensure healthy and safe ecosystems and food production. The bee doing the waggle dance, if you’re reading this, I have a script for you.

Lastly, Mika Kaurismaki’s Road North is a father-son-daughter movie, by one of Finland’s finest filmmakers, and it goes deep. Vesa-Matti Loiri plays the father, a giant of a man who abandoned his two children (by two different women) decades earlier. He’s come back to make peace, but there’s nothing earnest about a film in which a man steals a car, spirits his son away into the countryside and, among other things, gets him laid. Loiri is a huge feller, he’s got to weigh 350 lbs, but he’s sexy and full of love and he wants to be reconnected while there’s still time. Beautifully done small film; don’t see the American remake when they get around to it. It’ll suck.

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