Melancholia — Oddly Beautiful

I will get to some slightly more accessible movies, I promise, but I wanted to say a few things about Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia.

First, I’ve been a fan of Danish director Von Trier since Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark and Dogtown. I also saw a very bizarre documentary about him and one of his mentors at the festival one year. I wish I could remember the name of it, but I suppose it would be hard for people to find anyway.

He is one strange dude. But strange in a fascinating if unlikeable way. And his movies are often kind of like that, too. Strange and somewhat unlikeable. He definitely has a point of view and isn’t afraid to express it. (Even to the point of that horrible quote he said at a press conference in Cannes this year that got him kicked out.)

But even given that the movie’s strange and unlikeable, I really enjoyed Melancholia. It’s about the end of the world and two sisters, one of whom is very seriously depressed. To the point she spends a good chunk of her lavish wedding reception hiding out in the bathtub. (and she married Eric from True Blood–that she wasn’t joyous enough about that to get through her reception is proof enough of her serious mental illness. 😉

The depressed sister is played by Kirsten Dunst and I liked her in this more than I’ve liked her in anything since Interview With a Vampire–when she was about twelve. I really believed her character. Hard to play someone that severely depressed and not make it one note. Her sister is played by Charlotte Gainsbourg who is always fascinating in films. I find her real life, or the idea of it, fascinating enough, as she’s the child of French singer/songwriter/icon Serge Gainsbourg and the sixties fashion icon Jane Birkin (yes, the Birkin bag was named after her mom.) Kiefer Sutherland plays her brother in law. And both Alexander and Stellan Skarsgaard are in it, playing father and son, in fact.

Anyway… the film is very surreal and has two parts. The first is essentially from the Kirsten Dunst character’s POV and covers the night of her wedding reception. (The first five minutes at least are a scene of a long limo doing endless tiny adjustments trying to get around corners on a steep narrow road to take them to their reception. Symbolism…) The 2nd part is from the Charlotte Gainsbourg character’s POV, but it’s not quite that clean cut. The first part shows the disastrous wedding reception where the bride is an unbelievable mess. And that night they all spot a strange star in the sky no one’s seen before.

Turns out it’s not a star, but a planet that was previously undiscovered because it was hiding behind the sun. Don’t quibble about the science. You kind of just have to go with it. Point is, this planet is moving toward the earth and may or may not destroy the world if it gets too close as it passes or actually hits. The second part is about the characters preparing for this disaster/possible doomsday.

The irony here, or von Trier’s “message” is that the one who was already clinically depressed is the one who deals with this impending doom the best. And the cheeriest, most “together” character (Kiefer Sutherland’s character who is the very wealthy husband of the Gainsbourg character) is the one who handles it the worst.

Since I think it’s fair to assume that Mr. von Trier has struggled with a few mental illnesses himself, it’s not hard to get his point here… Maybe the mentally ill among us are actually the most sane.

If you hate surrealism, or strange movies, and didn’t like, for example, The Tree of Life, then you probably shouldn’t see this one. But it’s beautiful to look at, seriously beautiful, (the first ten or so minutes have no dialogue and are just a series of very surreal images), and the performances are astoundingly good (Dunst won best actress at Cannes or maybe Venice… or maybe both) so if this description hasn’t turned you off…. go see it. And keep an open mind. :)

Another Olsen Kid — Who Knew?

I hereby vow **holds hand up** that I will blog at least once a week, more often if I can, until I’ve covered more of my TIFF films.

I thought I should start with some of the ones that have already hit theatres…

One I really liked:  Martha Marcy May Marlene. (It’s easier to remember the title and order of the names after seeing the film…)

This is not an “easy” film but I was completely enthralled and mostly because of the performance by its lead, Elizabeth Olsen, pictured here with Sarah Paulson who’s always interesting to watch.

I didn’t know until after seeing the film that the actress was the younger sister of the Olsen twins and I’m glad I didn’t know, because I might have been distracted thinking about it. But maybe not. She was pretty remarkable in a not very easy part. Time will tell whether or not her performance in her debut movie was fluke but I’m guessing not.

The real challenge of this part is that she has to play this young woman in several different states of mind. One is a lost teen searching for approval and a place in the world. One is a happy, eager new member of a cult, thinking she’s finally found acceptance and love. One an obedient soldier in the cult, broken but steadfast. One a desperate escapee on the run. And finally a girl trying to adapt to the real world again and figuring out how to live with her sister and brother in law.

The timelines interweave. If memory serves (this is the problem with blogging more than 2 months later) we first see the escapee version of her character, then the girl trying to cope, then we flash back to when she first met the cult members etc. The tension continues to build as we see more and more of what this girl went through and understand why she’s so messed up and acting in such a bizarre manner in the present.

The cult leader is played by John Hawkes from Deadwood and Winter’s Bone. He was also fabulous in this. When I was a teen everyone was talking about cults… Maybe because the idealism in the 1970’s and the disillusionment with “society” (remember antidisestablishmentarianism?) led more young people toward cults… But this film reminded me why being brainwashed haunted my twelve year old nightmares.

The ending of this movie will likely tick some viewers off. I saw it with a festival audience and even then a few people shouted at the screen at the very abrupt ending. But those people might not have been angry… more startled. That’s all I’m going to say, except that with hindsight it was the perfect ending. The only other way they could have gone would be to add a big third act climax with a Hollywood ending… (think the hilarious last act of Adaptation after Charlie Kaufman goes to Robert McKee’s Story seminar) but it’s just not that kind of film. And we’ve seen enough at that point to deduce what’s about to happen after the projector shuts off.

If you have any tolerance for “art films” this is one you should see. I think Elizabeth Olsen might end up nominated for some awards and might just be a new rising star who will make people think of Kate and Ashley as Elizabeth Olsen’s older sisters rather than the other way around.

Ides of March

Dang, I am a bad blogger. I promised I’d get around to talking about some of the other TIFF films I saw last weekend. My how time flies.

While I haven’t found time to blog in the past 10 days, I did manage to see three movies 😉 . All films that were at TIFF, but I didn’t pick to see there (mostly because I knew they were coming out right after the festival.) I think all three of the fest movies I saw post-fest were great: Drive, 50/50 and Moneyball. If I had to pick a favorite, I’d have to go with 50/50, (because it’s the easiest to “like”), but if I had to pick the one I thought was “best” I’d go with Drive.

But back to The Ides of March.

This is a political film starring George Clooney and Ryan Gosling (sounds great, right?) and co-starring Paul Giamatti and Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood (sounds even better, right?). I mean stellar cast, stellar performances, interesting topic… It should have been a home run (to use a metaphor more suited to Moneyball).

But it wasn’t home run for me. Don’t get me wrong, it was very good. But I wanted to be blown away and I wasn’t. I keep trying to put my finger on why…. I think it’s because there’s really nothing new or groundbreaking about this story. Call me cynical but it’s not news to me that otherwise good people with strong values and ideals can do unethical and immoral things in pursuit of power. And in this case in order to get the democratic nomination for the US Presidency.

I feel as if Primary Colors already covered that ground and while this movie is more serious and dare-I-say smarter than Primary Colors, I’m not sure it was as entertaining.

I’m not saying don’t go see it — especially if you’re a fan of either Clooney or Gosling — but don’t get your hopes up as high as mine were, because super-high expectations are hard to live up to. :)

Drive and 50/50, on the other hand, both lived up to my expectations. But I’ll talk about those soon. :) I promise this time.

The Ones Coming Out Soon

After promising to post some reviews, I guess I should follow through. I’ve hit that evil just past the middle place in my current WIP and I’ve been spending a lot of time banging my head against the keyboard and haven’t felt much like blogging.

But here’s my take on a couple of films that are out or will be out soon.


I actually already talked about this one here.  According to imdb.com it was released in the US on September 16th. I don’t think it’s showing up here in Canada.

I give this a “maybe worth a rental” rating. I love Mia Wasikowska–think she’s incredibly talented–but the screenplay didn’t live up to her performance for me.


This was the one “second choice” I got this year. I’d chosen A Dangerous Method (which doesn’t open until December) but wasn’t that disappointed to get this screening instead. Both screenings were “day after the gala” showings so it’s not like there was any red carpet action going on anyway.

This one releases Oct 28th, and if you haven’t already seen the trailer (they’ve been showing it for MONTHS already) it’s set in Elizabethan times (not QE2) and posits another theory for who actually wrote Shakespeare’s plays, plus some interesting theories about the rightful heir to Elizabeth’s throne.

At least this theory was a new one to me, although I certainly don’t pretend to be all that informed about Shakespeare theories. I was definitely aware of the theories that Will could not have been the true author, since there’s no historical evidence he was educated, never mind being able to write. The Shakespeare character in this movie (a minor role) was very funny and I enjoyed him a lot. I also like the young Earl of Oxford, played by Jamie Campbell Bower, who plays Arthur in the TV series Camelot. But I’m not certain I really bought Rhys Ifans (photo above) as his older self. I didn’t immeditately recognize Ifans, so I don’t think I was affected by other goofier parts he’s played, but I just didn’t buy him as a leading man. I honestly thought he was the villain in the first few scenes he was in and it took me a while to figure out who was who and what was going on. My overall reaction might have been different if I’d seen him differently from the start. (One reason to see again is to see if the screenwriter or actor or director missed an opportunity to make me like/identify with the protagonist…) I think the problem is that they make you think that Ben Jonson is the main character, but he’s really not….

Talking about Ifans not really working for me and my issues with identifying a main character probably leads me to my overall reaction to this movie which is:  I’m not sure… I think I’m going to see it again when it comes out. My biggest problem had nothing to do with the movie (I don’t think) but to do with the couple who were sharing my row near the front right side of the Elgin and destroying my concentration. Both of them had their phones out through the movie, frequently flashing in my eyes, in spite of my telling them to shut up and turn off their phones a number of times. People have suggested I should have called an usher (or one of the big burly men with night vision glasses) but I figured that would just cause more disruption for other people, and I’m not sure if the the big burly men care about phones shining in people’s eyes as long as you’re not filming…. Generally festival goers are better behaved than this pair, but it was a weekend screening and I don’t think they were true “festival goers” if you know what I mean.

Anyway, it was brilliant to cast mother/daughter acting team of Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson as the younger and older versions of Queen Elizabeth I and the obvious age difference between Richardson and Bower (who plays the young version of Oxford) made one major plot twist even more deliciously creepy.

I think this one is worth seeing on the big screen–it’s beautiful if nothing else. Full of interesting conspiracy theories about an fascinating historical time. And like I said, I plan to see it a second time. But it didn’t blow me away as much as I’d hoped.

Will post my review of The Ides of March some time over the weekend. :)

TIFF 11 Review

I am going to start posting reviews of all or most of the 32 films I saw… but for now, I thought I’d post an overall review of this year’s festival. I know. Exciting, right?

Weather:  A

This is more important than you might think. The weather wasn’t absolutely prefect, but while it was kind of hot and humid near the beginning (if you got stuck in a line in direct sunlight) and kind of nippy later in the week (waiting in a line at night), it didn’t rain! (more than sprinkles) and was overall neither too hot nor too cold. Yay. With all the waiting in lines involved in the festival, this is key. A few of the days were downright gorgeous early fall days.

Ease of Festivalling:  B-

Yes, I made up a new verb. Sue me. I decided to fork out the big bucks to be a contributing member this year. While this didn’t mean I got all my picks, I did get 29 out of 30.  The only one I didn’t get was A Dangerous Method (got Anonymous instead) and based on what I’ve heard people say… it wasn’t that great, anyway. Or at least not as great as everyone expected with the Fassbender, Mortensen, Cronenberg combination. Although rating on imdb is quite good I see…

All of my trips down to the box office went smoothly — picking up book, dropping off picks, picking up tickets, buying a few single tickets, exchanging a ticket… That members and donors line is AWESOME.
On the other hand, I was annoyed that there were even more premium screenings this year. It was hard to pick films to see in the evenings the first weekend because so many of them were off limits for picks with passes and coupons. I think the festival should add some kind of pass or coupon booklet where you can pre-select a certain number of premium films… I don’t like buying a Gala pass (hate seeing movies at Roy Thompson Hall) and found the Visa Screening Room disappointing, too, because you end up with no choice… But why not a 10 coupon book or 5 coupon book for premium screenings… In my perfect festival world, I’d have a 30 film pass where I could pick up to 5-10 premium screenings within my 30.

Health:  B+

Okay, this is a pretty personal one, but also important. Back when I used to buy a 50 Film pass, I got a cold every year. I haven’t become ill the last couple of years because a) I no longer try to go to 9:00 am screenings. That’s just crazy. And b) I make sure I eat better than I used to and drink lots of water. But this year I got a monster zit on my nose, the likes of which I’ve never seen before… So not an A worthy health year. :)

Line Buzz: C

I noticed that now that everyone has a blackberry or iphone in line, no one talks anymore. Nor are they as likely to chatter with seatmates once seated in the theatre. I miss that. Although I do admit to checking my e-mail and reading on my kindle in lines and in my seat while waiting for screenings, too. Next year I vow to talk to more people (assuming I go again). I’ve met so many cool people at TIFF over the years and missed that this year. It’s fun to hear what everyone else loved and compare notes on films you saw in common. Plus, I get kind of strange when I go 10 days without much human interaction. Scary really. And the big zit didn’t help.

Overall Experience:  C+

The festival just isn’t as exciting as it used to be. Maybe I’m getting jaded, but I think it has to do with the fact I couldn’t pick any of the premium screenings and most of the “red carpet” events were deemed premium. Also, I somehow picked quite a few films this year that didn’t have a Q&A, even though it was a first screening… and didn’t have any of those great surprises when the director or actors show up at a next day screening. I miss that.

Films: B-

I will talk about each film later, but basically I didn’t have many that totally blew me away. :( And talking to the few people I did talk to in lines (and eavesdropping) most people felt the same way. That it was kind of a m’eh year for films. Maybe that’s why the People’s Choice was a Lebanese musical... Although I do hope winning that award will mean the film gets a general release. I don’t remember a time when the TIFF People’s Choice award didn’t go on to be a box office success…

More later. :)

A Great TIFF Day

So, I’m a little too bagged to blog properly… I will get caught up and talk about this year’s films properly, but I did have a really great day today. It was a five ticket day. I can’t say five film day, because one of them was a “Maverick” talk, not a film, but we did see a film clip as part of it…

My day started with Rampart, starring Woody Harrelson. I will post more about this film… Overall: great performances, interesting, too long. At least that’s what I think was “wrong” with it for me.

Then I went to a talk between Indian-born, Canadian filmmaker, Deepa Mehta and Salman Rushdie. She is currently making a movie of his book Midnight’s Children that will be out in October 2012. It was a pretty cool talk. I haven’t read the book, but the talk made me really want to see the movie and tackle the book, too. Sounds like my cup of tea… No pun intended. Seriously. I did not intend that almost pun.

Then I saw a screening of Anonymous. Very good. I think I’ll see this movie again when it comes out (soon). I was distracted by very annoying people sitting next to me who when they weren’t talking to each other, one or the other of them had their phone out. That kind of behaviour is rare at TIFF and I wanted to kill them. But LOVED the film’s theory on Shakespeare. Loved it.

Then came Pariah, which I understand was one of the darlings of Sundance last winter. And often those films don’t do as well with a “real” audience vs. the industry audience at Sundance, but I loved it. I’ll talk about this one later, too… But I was riveted. Touching coming of age story at its core. Stunning performance by the lead.

Then my last film of the day was Martha Marcy May Marlene. VERY interesting and tense. Loved it. Again, a stunning performance by the young lead (who happens to have very famous older twin sisters… named Olsen…) A non-hollywood ending that will make some people crazy (a few people swore aloud) and had me sitting stunned through the credits while the theatre cleared out. I have a new theory about the ending… Now can’t wait for someone else to see it so I can discuss. :)

Sorry for the very vague references and incomplete reviews. I promise I will talk more about these films and post some pictures as soon as I get some sleep!

And it Begins

The 36th annual Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) opened yesterday, so my life for the next 10 days is gone. I have some time today and a bit later in the week where I gave myself a break, (theoretically to write. Ha!), but I’m seeing at least 33 films at this point.

Yesterday, the TIFF was all about U2, with the premiere of the documentary From the Sky Down, but alas, not for me.

That was a “premium” screening, so I couldn’t select it with my 30 film pass and frankly I think that film is likely one of the main reasons it was next to impossible to get through on the web or the phone to get single tickets when they went on sale last Saturday.

But, I did have a good first night.

My first film was also a documentary, Into the Abyss by Werner Herzog. He got a (very long) standing ovation when he came on stage just to introduce the film, which shows how well he’s respected. Interestingly, there was no standing ovation at the end. I did like the film — actually, like might not be the right word. It’s a hard film to “like”. If you want to see an “easier” Herzog film that’s playing around still I think, go see Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Mesmerizing.

The subject of Into the Abyss is a very young man who was executed in Texas last year for murders he committed when he was only 18. It’s hard to like anyone in this film, and Herzog to his credit does not try to manipulate the audience opinions. Clearly Herzog himself is anti-death penalty, but he doesn’t ask leading questions or try to tug at heart strings and gives the daughter and sister of two of the victims a lot of time on screen. And while I didn’t like her, either… she’s one of the most sympathetic people he interviews. Herzog also dedicated the film to her and all victims of violent crime.

The part of this film that will stay for me for a long time is the realization that this laughing, goofy, immature, uneducated, probably lower-than-average IQ kid we saw interviewed is now dead. Killed by lethal injection 8 days after the interview. And there’s no question he was guilty of the crimes. But he was a human being and I suppose more than anything the film showed that he was human, not a monster. Herzog said that after: his crimes were monstrous. He wasn’t.

It’s probably clear by now that I’m against the death penalty, too and I try to keep this blog away from political or controversial issues, so I’ll shut up now and talk about the next film. :)

I also saw the new Gus Van Sant film Restless last night. I’m slightly on the fence about this one, too. It’s a more commercial film than a lot of his movies about teens, but I almost found it too commercial or too pat. I might have been influenced by a negative review I read in NOW magazine right before the movie started, but I think my beefs were slightly different than the reviewer’s.

The film stars the fabulous Mia Wasikowska which is why I picked it. She really is such a fabulous young actress and she’s very good in this. The male lead is the screen debut of Henry Hopper, who happens to be Dennis Hopper’s son and for me, he was slightly less than fabulous. I don’t know. I had trouble believing a few things he did/said. But generally the performances are very good and it had a very natural, voyeuristic feel. 

My issue was the screenplay which I thought was a tad unsubtle. I don’t know. As I try to describe it, it all sounds kind of clever and tight… And this is (slightly) spoilerish… A boy trying to get over the deaths of his parents imagines that he’s friends with a dead WWII kamikazi pilot and falls in love with a terminally ill girl. 

The non-cliche, best part of the story is that it’s a really sweet romance. It’s clear these two kids are made for each other in a way you rarely see in films. You rarely see two characters who so completely get each other and it’s tragic watching them fall in love when you know it will end so soon.  I don’t know. Maybe I liked it more on reflection. :)

I did wonder as I was watching, “How did the screenwriter get this made? It doesn’t seem all that special. And how did he possibly get Gus Van Sant to direct?” Then it all became clear in the Q&A. The screenwriter is a long-time friend of Bryce Dallas Howard… Who produced the film, with the help of her father (Ron Howard) and father’s best friend (Brian Grazer). Hmmm.. That’s an idea if I want a screenplay made. I need to make friends with the kids of huge Hollywood producers. Must get on that. :) 

But to the writer’s credit… I did really believe the relationship between these kids and that can’t have been just the actors and the director. 

Here are some snaps taken last night.  The dude in the green pants is the writer and just look how pregnant Bryce Dallas Howard is! I had no idea