Thursday, September 16, 2010

TIFF Capsules: Passion Play, Black Swan, 127 Hours and The Conspirator

My friend txt critic is completing his Toronto journey soon but he sent another batch of thoughts for your perusal. He starts by taking an against consensus stand.
By far the most loathed and eviscerated film of the festival, Mitch Glazer's brazenly out there, 20-years-in-the-works labor of love is extremely slow paced, unafraid to be laughed at for its sincerity and ridiculousness, and -- though I seem to be alone on this -- perpetually interesting. The plot basically boils down to "Mickey Rourke falls in love with circus-freak-with-giant-wings Megan Fox, and has to fight to protect her from violent gangster Bill Murray," so yes, it's silly, but I admired its audacity. Rourke is very very strong, Murray is always fun to watch, and... dare I say it? I thought Megan Fox was *gasp* pretty good (though, again, alone on this). Based on the response, though, who knows if this will ever see the light of day outside of the festival circuit. (B)
That is the sad thing about festivals, even if you're wise enough to mostly see films without release dates (I've never understood why people see things that will be out within in a few weeks) some of them will remain things that only you have ever seen.
Basically a rougher, sloppier, darker version of "Kick-Ass," James Gunn's homemade super 'heroes' flick has some moments of madcap dark humor, and a surprisingly solid central performance from Rainn Wilson, but it suffers from a severe imbalance of tone, bizarre flourishes that don't add up to much, and a perpetual mean-spiritedness that left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Ellen Page steals the movie with her childlike ADD energy and karate moves, but Liv Tyler and Kevin Bacon are squandered and seem like they wandered in from another movie. (C-)

Danny Boyle's true story of survival has been received raputurously on the festival circuit so far, but while I liked it overall, I can't really jump on the bandwagon of fervor. Boyle's energetic directorial style and a bravura physical performance from the normally boring James Franco go a long way towards keeping us involved; But at the end of the day, a guy with his arm pinned under a rock just isn't an inherently cinematic or compelling story, and the jittery editing and flashbacks and hallucinations -- while understandable on a conceptual level -- almost seem like a betrayal of the realities of the situation. Also, as good as Franco is, we never (or at least I never) feel like we know anything about this guy, or why we should have vested interest in his fate. That said, Boyle and Franco do keep us wrapped up in the goings-on, and there are about a half-dozen sequences (including the insanely intense climax) that are pretty remarkable... at least until the epilogue steps on the "uplifting" pedal a little too hard/disingenuously to try to push this into Slumdog territory. It's a solid effort, and will likely go over big with audiences, but I was only intermittently feeling it. (B / B-)
Interesting take. Especially in regards to the betrayal of a gut wrenching terrifying monotony of the experience as it must have been to live. I'm nervous about this one primarily because I thought Slumdog was only OK and it actively started annoying me when people wouldn't shut up about it. Will we see a repeat of that mass hysteria? And if so does that mean Boyle will get to do anything he wants from now on?

And finally txtcritic disputes the positive notices for Robert Redford's Oscar bait and joins many in loving Darren Aronofsky's latest.
Robert Redford's dull as dishwater History Channel re-enactment depicts the true but little known story of Mary Surratt, the mother of the accused collaborator of John Wilkes Booth in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. While it's admirable that Redford would like to teach us all about a oft-overlooked footnote in history, he sure as hell doesn't do much to make it engaging, even with a pretty fantastic cast including Robin Wright, James McAvoy, Tom Wilkinson (sporting ridiculous old-timey mutton chops) and Kevin Kline. History nuts may be enraptured, but as an actual movie, it never breaks out of its dry, dusty courtroom procedural paramaters. All I could think of during the film (especially with the presence of Tom Wilkinson) was "John Adams" and the comparison is certainly not flattering. Blech. (C-)

I hate to pile on more advance hype, but Aronofsky's much-anticipated psychological ballet thriller is truly staggering. A tightly-wound examination of the obsessive quest for artistic perfection, the film packs in one staggering sequence after another, and never allows us to breathe easy or get comfortable. Simultaneously beautiful and grotesque, it'll likely offput as many as it seduces, but this is a movie that will still be held on a pedestal a decade or two down the line. The comparisons being made to "The Red Shoes" and "The Wrestler" are apt, but there are strong traces of "There Will Be Blood" in here as well, in regards to the extremes to which it burrows into its central character. Portman does easily her best work here, carrying the entire film on her shoulders, and Winona Ryder and Barbara Hershey are terrifying perfection. (A)
So... that's the first I'm hearing of someone really mentioning Noni. Could this be a comeback of sorts (I had assumed it was a teensy-tiny cameo since I'm purposefully not reading reviews I don't know one way or the other)? Since this film is not playing the New York Film Festival I will have to wait along with the rest of you until December 1st.

Come again?!? I can't have heard the release date correctly. I'm dying here.

Noni, Aronofsky, Natalie, and Barbara Hershey

Just for fun, here's what the Black Swan team wore to their big Canadian premiere. Mila Kunis did not attend.


Genevive said...

I don't know how to take "this is Natalie Portman's best work." It's not like the girl has a lot of great work to choose from. She has more embarassing work to choose from actually. She's had about two good performances in her career (and I think her performance in closer is too self-conscious, bad, and much too mannered. Hers holds up the least well of the quad).

Anonymous said...

It's playing the Hamptons Film Festival.

Anonymous said...

Portman is inconsistent at best, but when she's good, she's damn good. I mean, has anyone seen "Anywhere But Here"?

adelutza said...

I saw The Conspirator as well, and I don't agree with all this put down by everybody. It's a well made film, history buff or not. If I find any fault with it is that it tries to spell out to clearly all the contemporary similarities. But I liked it.

adelutza said...

Oh, and I saw Passion Play too. Ultimately boring, though the ending makes it more bearable from a believability point of view

Luke said...

Ahh... bless you intrepid and international journalists for always keeping us lowly Midwesterners informed on the festival circuit. I don't know what I'd do without a little bit of fall movie gossip before awards season takes full swing!

adam said...

I am really curious to see Passion Play. Weird, eccentric, unapologetic, romantic - looks like my kind of film.

You aren't alone in liking it, I have seen other similar reviews. Nor are you alone in praising Megan Fox's performance, it definitely looks like its her best work to date. Not that I am particularly shocked, it should have been obvious since Jennifer's Body that this girl has potential to grow into a decent actress.

Jason Adams said...

I love that you said that Adam, cuz Megan really is good in Jennifer's Body. I'm a defender though and we do feel far and few between. So I'm totally excited for Passion Play, and hope it gets a release of some sort.

Also, and I apologize for being vulgar here at the start, but Black Swan needs to sit on my face right now. WANT.

adam said...

Aww, let's hug! :)


vivchu said...

I think Natalie Portman has officially become oscar best actress nod front runner.

Sara said...

Portman, I think, has done more good than bad.

Beautiful Girls*
Anywere but Here
Cold Mountain
V for Vendetta
My Blueberry Nights*
True *
Hotel Chevalier*
Love and Other Impossible Pursuits

The Other Boleyn Girl
Where the Heart Is
Garden State
Free Zone
New York I Love You

SW prequels
Mr Magorium's Whatever

*Her best work. I think people don't know how to see her. There's a gulf between how they feel about her and how they're left feeling after her performance. For instance, people always comment that they don't know if she can pull off adult roles, etc., but look at her most critically acclaimed performances from the past 10 years: Black Swan, Closer, Hotel Chevalier, True, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, My Blueberry Nights. She got glowing reviews for those performances but for whatever reason, at the end of the day, the slate is wiped clean and she starts again.

jeff said...

Nothing about Mila Kunis ? After all she got the Mastroianni Award for this.

And maybe Hershey could score a nom ala Portrait of A Lady ?

Andrew R. said...

Passion Play-This movie might get distributed just for camp reasons. And Megan Fox.

Super-Don't care.

127 Hours-I did a 180 (or a 127...ha ha) on this film. When I first heard about it, I thought, "I'll see it since I love Danny Boyle, but it doesn't sound great." Then the trailer and the raves came in. I WANT IT NOW.

Conspirator-I never wanted to see this. Even if it got an acting nomination.

Black Swan-We all want to see it. (Only 78 more days! I think.) Stop rubbing it in.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't a big fan of Black Swan's magic realism, but watching how Natalie/Nina has to bend her foot and stretch and try to get her arms right for the black swan role makes for a great performance.

Watching Passion Play in two hours. Scared, but still just as curious. And I'm in Team Fox anyway.

David Giancarlo said...

Black Swan is not going to be a comeback for Winona. She's in the film for maybe a minute combined, and when she is, she is terrible. Unless, of course, you like it when an actress chews all the scenery in sight. It was really depressing to watch, because I really was hoping that Winona would show a flicker of her brilliance from the early - mid-nineties; I hope that she's not too far gone.

Ainsley said...

I hope IFC does a decent job distributing SUPER. People NEED to see that Ellen Page is soooooo much more than Juno.

Volvagia said...

Chewing scenery? Not a bad thing. Just remember: Swallow every once in a while.

OtherRobert said...

I know why Boyle had to put a kind of happy epilogue stamp on that film, but I'm sure it will leave me very mad at the end of it. Can't anyone take a page from some of the best horror films about survival and have the tortured protagonist walk away alive in the end? Isn't that uplifting enough? Being alive? Surviving the worst nightmare of your life? And it's not like Boyle hasn't played with that ending (multiple times in one film, even) before.

Katey said...

I really liked Winona Ryder in Black Swan, and she fits right in with the high-strung hysterical style, but she's really not in it very long at all. It should be much more of a comeback for Barbara Hershey, who has a big meaty part and is great in it.

As for Mila Kunis, she does just fine, but the film demands far less from her than it does of nearly everyone else.

I'll have to hunt down "txtcritic" today and bully him over 127 Hours. I thought it was magnificent.

aclp said...

V for Vendetta can never be considered one of her ebst works because her accent is horrendous, awful, atrocious, as it is in The Other Boleyn Girl.

Portman should give up on playing brits. She just can't.

Mirko said...

Count me on Team Megan!

wish I could watch Passion Play somedays!!!

Volvagia said...

Yeah, the accent is questionable, but it's Hugo Weaving's best work, certainly.

Best Actor 2006:

Hugo Weaving, V for Vendetta
Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson
Forrest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
Hugh Jackman, The Fountain
Daniel Craig, Casino Royale

3 Honorable Mentions:

Clive Owen, Children of Men
Dax Shepard, (otherwise it's garbage) Let's Go to Prison
Will Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness

dbm said...

In regards to 127 Hours and the txt critic speaking of the weird halluciniations or whatever that you see Aron Ralston go through...I just finished reading Between A Rock And A Hard Place, and Aron talks about how towards the last day, when he finally decided to do what he did, he was fully dehydrated and on no food for a few days. It's just basic physiology that your mind would start to go and hallucinations would set in. There is nothing cliched, phony or to be questioned about that.
Actually it's the hallucinations and shock is what helped Aron get through the situation because it wasn't as painful nor as excruciating had he not been in that state of mind, because he was already half out of it, just going on survival instict.

Sara said...

Amanda - I don't count accents as part of a performance. To me it's like counting someone's dye job as acting and it isn't.

I think the number of actors and actresses who can successfully pull off foreign accents is a lot smaller than most people are willing to admit. And I'm not willing to discount a good performance because the accent was troubled.

Lachlan said...

Natalie Portman is horribly underrated. Her performances can seem calculated, especially in movies like Garden State and Brothers, but they're never less than proficient. I read a review that summed up what I thought about her, that she hit all the right notes but didn't seem to feel them.
Portman strikes me as too smart for the dreck she's often in. She seems to approach most of her roles in a workmanlike way, like she's a competent, reliable employee. But she's done great, unexpected work in My Blueberry Nights and Hotel Chevalier, and I thought she was the best thing about Closer. She's great in movies that test her, and from what I've read, it sounds like Black Swan was a physical and mental ordeal for her.