Toronto International Film Festival
5-14 September, 2002

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"Talk to Her" (Pedro Almodóvar, Spain): 66
[Arrestingly off-the-wall premise handled with perhaps a little too much delicacy and restraint; the film itself feels a little comatose until the surreal silent-movie centerpiece bumps the EKG needle right off the chart.]

Roger Dodger (Dylan Kidd, USA): 67
[Quite robust visually for a nonstop gab-a-thon, and Campbell Scott makes the most mesmerizing predatory asshole since Eckhart's Chad. Kidd doesn't seem to know where to take it after Beals and Berkley depart, alas.]

Auto Focus (Paul Schrader, USA): 41
[Boy, that Bob Crane sure liked to have sex, didn't he?!? Shallow and pointless, smugly hammering home the banal disparity between the actor's wholesome public persona and his semi-seamy secret desires; only Kinnear's deft performance and the art direction keep it watchable.]

Secretary (Steven Shainberg, USA): W/O
[Sexual masochism ranks alongside differential calculus and agrarian reform on my personal list of Unbelievably Tedious Subjects.]

8 Women (François Ozon, France): 77 {second viewing: 82}
[Delightfully exuberant surface, bedecked in ostentatious theatricality and artifice, is enriched by a surprisingly affecting undercurrent of genuine sorrow. And Ludivine Sagnier turns out to be compulsively watchable even when she keeps her clothes on.]

Far from Heaven (Todd Haynes, USA): 67
[Very much a movie made by a semiotics major, in ways both rewarding and annoying -- everything's in ironic quotation marks, especially the ironic quotation marks themselves. Visually it's downright ravishing, and Haynes does a pretty good job evoking the tone (if not the mise-en-scène or rhythm) of Sirk's American melodramas, but only on a handful of occasions does it manage to transcend the category of "interesting academic exercise" and really suck you in on a primal level.]

Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary (André Heller & Othmar Schmiderer, Austria): 55
[Postmodern bits in which Junge watches her earlier interview footage seem kind of perfunctory, but she's an intelligent, articulate subject relating an inherently engrossing personal narrative.]

Lost in La Mancha (Keith Fulton & Louis Pepe, USA/UK): 64
[Hardly a great documentary, but a truly heartbreaking experience for Gilliam fans. Let's hope he's able to finish the thing someday.]

Once Upon a Time in the Midlands (Shane Meadows, UK/Germany): 59
[Meadows has trouble sustaining a tone at feature length, I find; this one careers back and forth between earnest and farcical, with the former elements much more effective than the latter. Strong performances, especially from the preternaturally alert Finn Atkins.]

Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, Japan/USA): 63
[Wish I could love this like everybody else, but it's just too damn cluttered and unfocused, emphasizing outré imagery at the expense of (just shoot me now, highbrow types) narrative coherence. Or, to put it another way, it plays more like 20 animated shorts arbitrarily strung together than like an animated feature. Still dazzling, of course.]

Blue Car (Karen Moncrieff, USA): 48
[Poetry as personal therapy; sensitive girl exploited by seemingly supportive male mentor; Sarah MacLachlan over the closing credits. Get me out of here in my opinion. Has its moments, he grudgingly admits.]

(Check out my Cannes report for remarks about Welcome to Collinwood (65); Kedma (50); Marie-Jo and Her 2 Loves (61); Bowling for Columbine (66); Blissfully Yours (54); My Mother's Smile (45); Sex Is Comedy (42); All or Nothing (62); Japón (23); City of God (67); Punch-Drunk Love (68); Divine Intervention (67); Morvern Callar (70); Ararat (54); Waiting for Happiness (28); 10 (43); Spider (34); Sweet Sixteen (71); The Last Letter (35); El Bonaerense (37); The Man Without a Past (59); Russian Ark (53); Unknown Pleasures (41); The Son (66); Chihwaseon (34); and Femme Fatale (52).

[NOTE: The tentative schedule that follows is highly subject to change. On some days, if buzz about an unheralded title necessitates last-minute scrambling, it may well be entirely discarded, since a substitution early on often results in a domino effect. But this is the current plan of attack.]

Thu 5

I'm the Father (Dani Levy, Germany): 42
[Von Kramer vs. Von Kramer, except this time Mom takes the kid and Dad behaves like an irrational loon. Stuck with it only because I'll watch Maria Schrader cleaning grease traps if need be.]

Every Day God Kisses Us on the Mouth (Sinisa Dragin, Romania): W/O
[But some days His breath reeks of stale tobacco and curdled phlegm. That's two for two shot on muddy DV so far -- please let this not be representative.]

Heaven (Tom Tykwer, France/Germany/USA): 69
[More effective if you try to imagine it bouncing off of Hell and Purgatory; even out of context, though, it still boasts the inexorable moral logic of Kieslowski and Piesiewicz, as well as Tykwer's usual visual dynamism. The shot of Blanchett descending the escalator foreground left as the elevator rises up the face of the building background right had me catching my breath before the opening credits had even ended.]

The Good Thief (Neil Jordan, UK/France/Ireland): 67
[Imagine a slick off-Hollywood remake of Bob le Flambeur with more plot, more flash, quirkier characters and an even happier ending. Now imagine that it's actually pretty darn entertaining. I'll give you a few minutes to work your mind around it; it took me almost two reels.]

Fri 6

Adolphe (Benoît Jacquot, France): 44
[Two abhorrent characters -- one despicable, the other pathetic -- played by two mediocre actors -- one vacuous, the other overwrought.]

Love Liza (Todd Louiso, USA): W/O
[Strains for grave naturalism but relies largely on cheap signifiers of Bereavement: wildly inappropriate laughter, a price tag hanging from a shirt sleeve, etc. Hoffman's trying way too hard, and the movie might have been directed by the comically intense babysitter Louiso played in Jerry Maguire. Not to mention that Wilson won't open the suicide note and the film's called Love Liza, so where do you think it's going?]

Rabbit-Proof Fence (Phillip Noyce, Australia): 51
[Serviceable entry in the arduous-journey genre benefits from a canny, relaxed performance by Everlyn Sampi. Awfully earnest, though, and I'd never have guessed that was Chris Doyle behind the lens.]

Bad Guy (Kim Ki-duk, South Korea): 58
[Hideously misogynistic -- but then, so is The Piano, which tells basically the same story but tarts it up with "respectable" neo-Gothic atmosphere. This version's more honest.]

Personal Velocity (Rebecca Miller, USA): 48
[He wondered why Miller felt the need to narrate her triptych into a semi-literary coma, and whether it was merely coincidence that the story set in the publishing world is sharp and funny while the stories dealing with lower-class women are trite and condescending. He was reminded of a dog he'd loved as a child...]

Spun (Jonas Akerlund, USA/France): 46
[Sporadically hilarious -- at the very least, Mickey Rourke has inspired me to rededicate myself to the pussy -- but also monotonously hyperactive and often tediously moralistic. And it felt longer than frickin' Versus.]

Sat 7

Gerry (Gus Van Sant, USA): 86
[Tarr + Beckett + Blair Witch + the return of GVS = holy shit. Would've been 90+ with a stronger ending.]

A Peck on the Cheek (Mani Ratnam, India): 52
[Strange, schizophrenic amalgam of sappy melodrama and angry agitprop needed more musical numbers and fewer lengthy flashbacks. Might help if I had a clue what's going on in Sri Lanka right now.]

A New Life (Philippe Grandrieux, France): W/O
[I guess this is supposed to be some kind of abstract meditation on dehumanization or something. Too tedious, pretentious and unpleasant for me to stick around and find out.]

The Idol (Samantha Lang, France): 56
[C'mon, guys, this film is not that bad (above and beyond the Leelee Factor). Goes astray in the last couple of reels, but both lead performances are nicely judged and the dynamic between their characters shifts in consistently intriguing ways. A pleasant surprise.]

Raising Victor Vargas (Peter Sollett, USA): 77
[Not sure I buy that New York teens this innocent and wholesome actually exist, but the movie still pretty much defines "irresistible."]

Sun 8

Ten Minutes Older: The Cello (Bernardo Bertolucci/Mike Figgis/Jirí Menzel/István Szabó/Claire Denis/Volker Schlöndorff/Michael Radford/Jean-Luc Godard, Germany): 27
[Awfully thoughtful of this project's organizers to put all the decent films in one program, thus obviating any need to see the other. Figgis: The quadrant does not work, bud. Move the fuck on. Please.]

The Cuckoo (Alexander Rogozhkin, Russia): 60
[Successfully treads a very thin line between charming and cutesy, then inexplicably veers into dewy-eyed mysticism in the final reel.]

Ginostra (Manuel Pradal, France): W/O
[This movie's stupid.]

The Three Marias (Aluizio Abranches, Brazil/Italy): 62
[Thin but invigorating female revenge melodrama, more campy than pulpy. Fun Raimi-esque travel montages, a few hilarious scenes. Mostly, though, it wasn't Ginostra.]

Cry Woman (Liu Bingjian, China/South Korea/France/Canada): 49
[Intriguing premise -- trouble is, there's really only one place it can go, and that does indeed turn out to be its final destination.]

Mon 9

Flower & Garnet (Keith Behrman, Canada): 48
[Or: The Unhappy Adventures of the Unhappiest Little Boy in the Whole Entire Unhappy World. At its best before the plot kicks in.]

The Nugget (Bill Bennett, Australia): 43
[The kind of mainstream comedy that introduces its loser protagonists with "We Are the Champions" and plays "Don't Worry, Be Happy" over the closing montage. Eric Bana dispiritingly lackluster.]

Camel(s) (Park Ki-yong, South Korea): W/O

Novo (Jean-Pierre Limosin, France/Spain/Switzerland): 30
[Memento reconceived as a bad French art movie -- protagonist passive rather than active, emphasis on sex rather than revenge. Give Limosin credit for successfully disguising the material's essential ludicrousness until late in the going. What was the deal with the tooth, though? Dopey symbolism? Obscure plot point? Please advise.]

The Eye (Pang Brothers, Hong Kong/Thailand/UK): 52
[Standard-issue ghost story boasts a few effective set pieces (the elevator in particular). Pretty tame by Midnight Madness standards.]

Tue 10

Phone Booth (Joel Schumacher, USA): 47
[Nifty premise, Schumacher execution. At least the climactic confessional monologue isn't as embarrassing in Farrell's hands as it would have been in Carrey's.]

Lilya 4-ever (Lukas Moodysson, Sweden): 47
[Actually a pretty high rating when you consider how much I generally despise movies determined to grind some helpless protagonist's face into the dirt for two solid hours. Appealing lead performance helps.]

Assassination Tango (Robert Duvall, USA): 51
[Situation: Duvall, a tango enthusiast, wants to make a movie about his favorite pastime. Problem: If he makes a straight-up tango movie, nobody will go see it. Solution: Make the protag a budding tango buff...and a professional killer! 'Cause, you know, hit men are cool and shit.]

11'09"01: September 11 (Samira Makhmalbaf/Claude Lelouch/Youssef Chahine/Danis Tanovic/Idrissa Ouedraogo/Ken Loach/Alejandro González Iñárritu/Amos Gitaï/Mira Nair/Sean Penn/Shohei Imamura, France): 34
[Christ, what a fiasco. Makhmalbaf quite good, Imamura striking if largely irrelevant, the rest evenly split between didactic and maudlin. Remember the Onion headline that went "President Urges Calm, Restraint Among Nation's Ballad Singers"? That was awesome.]

Bear's Kiss (Sergei Bodrov, Germany): 18
[What this is is the main girl from Show Me Love as a circus performer who falls in love with a shape-shifting bear. Sounds watchable at the very least, no? A: NO.]

Wed 11

The Secret Lives of Dentists (Alan Rudolph, USA): 72
[Mostly exceptional, and could go higher; I have reservations about the central gimmick, which is really better suited for the stage (so much so that I think it's something of a theatrical cliché now).]

Public Toilet (Fruit Chan, Hong Kong/China/South Korea): W/O
[Nah, too easy.]

The Sweatbox (John-Paul Davidson & Trudie Styler, UK): 55
[Way too much emphasis on Sting, for obvious reasons, but it'd still make a kickass supplement on the Emperor's New Groove DVD.]

The Man on the Train (Patrice Leconte, France): 45
[Contrived two-hander never remotely achieves liftoff. Wait, that's the wrong vehicular metaphor. "Never builds up a head of steam"? A tad anachronistic, but you get the idea.]

Happy Here and Now (Michael Almereyda, USA): 57
[Consistently fascinating despite being -- to me, at least -- utterly incoherent.]

Thu 12

Dirty Pretty Things (Stephen Frears, UK): 49
[Can't seem to decide whether it's a gritty Loachian treatise about the exploitation of London's illegal underclass or a cheerfully ludicrous thriller à la Extreme Measures. Hard to dislike, but it's really kind of a mess, and not nearly as complicated as its title wants us to believe.]

Try Seventeen (Jeffrey Porter, USA): 57
[More entertaining on the fringes than at the center, but a fairly promising debut that manages to portray a precocious, fantasy-prone teen without falling into the ersatz-Wes trap.]

Dolls (Takeshi Kitano, Japan/France): 38
[Stultifying, maudlin triptych about guilt and obsession lacks the ornery energy of Kitano's previous work. Thought for a while that it was getting more interesting, but it turned out to be a false alarm.]

The Other Side of the Bed (Emilio Martínez-Lázaro, Spain): W/O
[Musicals, like comedies, either work or don't. This one does for about 15 minutes, then doesn't anymore.]

Irreversible (Gaspar Noé, France): 82 (first viewing: 73)
[Every bit as viscerally overwhelming the second time, and several of my reservations fell away (though others remain). I'll add a postscript to my Cannes review after the fest.]

Fri 13

On the Run (Lucas Belvaux, France/Belgium): 75
[Nary a false note in this tense, increasingly claustrophobic anti-thriller, which focuses largely on the nuts and bolts of evasion. Never exciting, exactly, but the exquisitely simple final shot makes everything click into place and elevates the whole movie to another level. Curious to see how it ricochets off the other two pictures in Belvaux's trilogy, to be seen tomorrow if all goes well.]

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (Park Chan-Wook, South Korea): 33
[Devoid of sympathy, empathy and ultimately even curiosity, I wound up observing each fresh act of violence or torture with the cold, impatient stare of a customer at the butcher shop. Give me the glossy, pat morality play of Joint Security Area over this random nihilism any day.]

Ken Park (Larry Clark & Ed Lachman, USA): 48
[Funny and oddly affecting whenever it isn't stupid and pointlessly perverse.]

The Kite (Alexei Muradov, Russia): W/O
[Dour tale of granite-faced, barrel-chested men and their monosyllabic grunts. Looked pretty impressive visually, at least from my vantage point in the third row (a contributing factor to my early exit).]

A Snake of June (Shinya Tsukamoto, Japan): 50
[Dear Penthouse Forum: I'd always assumed the stories you print each month to be writer's inventions -- especially the ones involving killer metallic tentacles in lieu of genitalia -- until one day last week...]

Sat 14

In America (Jim Sheridan, Ireland/UK): 56
[Paddy Considine and Samantha Morton could probably make even The Story of Us semi-watchable, and this run-of-the-mill struggling-immigrant drama goes down smooth in spite of a few treacly subplots.]

An Amazing Couple (Lucas Belvaux, France/Belgium): 84
[A terrific farce in its own right, it also does in fact retroactively enrich On the Run (see above) -- so much so, in fact, that I was prepared to give the trilogy as a whole a 90+ rating and declare it the year's cinematic triumph. Alas, then came...]

After Life (Lucas Belvaux, France/Belgium): 53
[...which, heartbreakingly, turned out to be a largely redundant gloss on the other two films rather than a distinct but related work. That it focuses on the trilogy's least expressive actor didn't help matters. Kind of a bummer, but two exceptional films out of three ain't bad.]

Aiki (Daisuke Tengan, Japan): W/O
[Just in case Whose Life Is It, Anyway? seemed incomplete somehow without subtitles.]

Cabin Fever (Eli Roth, USA): 50
[Mediocre as horror, with slack pacing and bizarre structural gaps, but the basic idea's worthy of a more thoughtful and accomplished film.]