Monday, September 21, 2009

4 More From TIFF: Chloe, Precious, Capitalism and Leaves of Grass

As promised, we're wrapping up the TIFF coverage with two more roundups from my friend txt critic. Here's four more capsules and late tonight, he'll be back with the ranking of everything he saw there, with eyes gleefully propped open for days on end.

On Precious
Deserving of the hype that’s been building since Sundance, Lee Daniels’ overwhelming emotional powerhouse was the one film I saw at the festival that earned a standing ovation (all the more notable when you take into consideration it was a public screening, not a gala). All you’ve been hearing is how “tough” and disturbing this movie is, and it is, but none of these descriptions quite prepare you for how humanistic and absorbing it is. The proceedings never turn into a film that needs to be “endured” or unbearable to watch. In other words, it’s rough going emotionally, but it’s not “good for you” cinema; it draws you in at every turn, and somewhat amazingly, there’s never an emotional moment that feels false, or a bridge too far. That said, there’s no chance of this turning into another Slumdog Millionaire populist sensation, as the material is just TOO dark and upsetting, and there’s no redemptive dance number to send people out of the theater smiling. I emerged from Precious drained, but oddly energized by what I’d just seen. I’d put money on nominations for Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actress, Supporting Actress, Editing, Original Song. (A)
He'd put money on the nominations. Well, that won't have a great ROI right now, gambling wise since everyone is betting on this film in the Oscar race now. I wish it were opening tomorrow since I don't want the hype to overwhelm me more than the film.

On Leaves of Grass
Tim Blake Nelson’s first directorial effort since his unconscionably depressing Holocaust drama The Grey Zone is the sort of film that makes you marvel at the fact that it got made and scratch your head at what was going through the filmmaker’s head at the time he was writing it. It's daffy enough that you generally enjoy the ride. The story of two diametrically opposed twin brothers (one a redneck pot grower, one a philosophy professor at an Ivy League university), both played by Edward Norton, reunited against one of their wills, is largely a hit-or-miss affair. It's problems are the sort of thing that could easily be fixed if an eventual buyer forces Nelson back into the editing room. The dark comedy has some very funny moments, some carefully observed character touches, as well as comedy moments that go way too broad, occasional dead spots, and violence that’s way too piercing, jarring (and out-of-nowhere) for what’s surrounding it. What keeps it all worth watching throughout is Norton’s utterly transfixing and fun performance(s), among the actor’s best ever. (B-)
On Chloe
A genuinely good movie that devolves into merely a fun one in its last third, Atom Egoyan’s remake of the French film Nathalie about a woman (Julianne Moore) who suspects her husband (Liam Neeson) of cheating, then tempts him with a young prostitute (Amanda Seyfried), strives for actual resonance for about a good solid hour. It makes substantive points about faithfulness, and the complex emotions that long-term relationships breed, and Moore delivers terrific work. In the final half hour, though, Egoyan is content to let the movie turn into a soap opera-y guilty pleasure that revels in over-the-top revelations and pulpy plot twists. It’s still an entertaining guilty pleasure, and remains utterly compelling, but by the time it ends, you wonder what happened to that serious movie you started watched. (B)
I'm glad to hear positive things about Edward Norton and Julianne Moore movies since both have had rough patches but are two of our most talented players. This description of Chloe really make me want to see the movie. I tend to like shape-shifting movies... as long as they are purposefully shifting their shape.

On Capitalism: A Love Story
It never ceases to amaze me the slapdash, manipulative bullshit Michael Moore is able to get away with in the name of populism, and his latest film is the worst offender (as well as his first film I haven’t liked). Moore’s been getting a pass from the critics so far, and I can’t really understand why, as the crap he pulls here would earn endless amount of scorn were any other filmmaker’s name attached. Just to be clear, I’m a flaming liberal, and even I grew tired with the rotund documentarian’s perpetual going back to the well of blaming everything on the Republicans, and resorting to cheapshot Bush bashing that has little to no relevancy to the material.

Moore (seemingly) entered into this latest project without much of a thesis statement, and damned if you don’t walk away from the movie with much more than a shrug. He drifts from scene to scene without ever offering much in the way of coherency; he sits down with his friend actor Wallace Shawn to discuss the economy because... Shawn got a degree in economics years ago. Okay...? Why is this a scene in the movie? Moore resorts to his shameless, manipulative, exploitative tactics that don’t serve much of a purpose (a widower is filmed reading a letter to his dead wife, as the camera lingers on the face of the man’s crying child) but if it makes the audience cry, it must have resonance, right? And, frankly, endless scenes of Moore with a bullhorn in front of big buildings and/or trying to get into them are just boring by this point. Perhaps worst of all, after concluding the film with the message that capitalism is evil and must be destroyed, I realized the movie barely scratched the surface at explaining why (or what its title means). Because there are some jobs where people make money at the misfortune than others? I want to be on your side, Michael, but I need more. (D+)
Ouch. I hope I like this one more than this since I've felt for too long that we've worshipped the free market into places untenable.

Next up: four more capsules and txt critics rankings of all 26 pictures he took in at the Toronto International Film Festival. For now... are you intrigued by Chloe? Willing to give Michael Moore another shot?


Danny King said...

I don't think I've read one bad thing about Precious so far, I cannot wait to see it.

As for Moore's new film, I'm surprised to hear the disapproval as the reviews have generally been positive so far.

About a week ago, Roger Ebert wrote some positive comments about Chloe, so that is one I have my eye on as well.

Agustin said...

I was starting to think Precious was turning into Slumdog, but this review clears everything up.
I'm still worried about the emotional manipulation in the film.

Kamila said...

I am very happy to see that you enjoyed "Leaves of Grass". I have read several different opinions about this movie - some good, some bad - but I trust you! :-)

Peter Nellhaus said...

Check out Nathalie if you haven't yet seen it. Julie Delpy in stripper mode, with Gerard Depardieu and Fanny Ardant (very ravishing sez moi). Maybe I'll see Chloe but I'm in no rush to see remakes of anything.

Anonymous said...

Why the f%ck is everyone comparing Slumdog to Precious the two are nothing alike other than the stars of both films are racial minorities in America.

Precious and An Education are both overhyped at the moment.

Rob said...

I believe they're being compared, because they're both (a) the frontrunners post-Toronto, and (b) little-movies-that-could that got picked up at a festival.

Relax, bitch.

Aaron said...

I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to see Capitalism: A Love Story. That some are predicting this for best picture is beyond me. Are the Academy still ejaculating over Michael Moore?

Other than that, I'm ecstatic to see Chloe, Leaves of Grass, and MOTHER AND CHILD. Please, someone, some distributor, pick up that film!!! Love Bening and Watts! I'm seeing Precious at the NYFF coming up, so needless to say I'm about to hyperventilate. I'm really hesitant about films with unanimous, universal acclaim, but I really am hoping for the best for this one.

Anonymous said...

Rob, you do not know me so do not call me out of my name.

Nate said...

Rob, that would've have been a good answer ONLY if An Education wasn't a strong frontrunner and is in the same situation.

Rob said...

Really? An Education won the Audience awards at Sundance and Toronto?

Nate said...

No, but it received strong reviews after both film festivals. so it is in a similar situation.

And to my knowledge Slumdog didn't win the Audience Award at Sundance.

Anonymous said...

Yes, very intrigued by CHLOE! Great to hear that Julianne Moore is terrific in it. Seems like she's really got her grove back with Savage Grace, Blindness and now A Single Man and Chloe.

Wayne B. said...

Now I want to see the first three!

Timothy said...

Yay Precious! Wow, this might really go all the way and win best picture!