Thursday, September 24, 2009

Harry Brown

Daniel Barber | 2009 | 97 mins | UK

I don't really like to open with glib "it's like X meets Y but with more zazz!" descriptions in my reviews, but truly, Harry Brown is like Gran Torino, only it's Michael Caine, and he blows people's heads off. The film's understated badass-ness is obvious from the opening credits, which simply proclaim in small white letters on a black screen: Michael Caine (pause) is (pause) Harry Brown. Yeah he is. And if you mess with him, he will murder you in the face.

Harry is a widower living in a house near a rather rough apartment complex in London. He sees the thuggish kids who hang out at the nearby underpass, and he avoids them by taking the long route. People in the neighbourhood are harassed, fed up and on edge. Harry can feel the bad vibes building up around him but it's not until an old friend of his tries to defend himself and ends up dead that he realises that he can't just sit by and watch. Coincidentally, Harry happened to have been in the Marines as a young man. Those skills might come in handy.

Soon, Harry is on a mission to clean up the 'hood, while a well meaning but ineffectual cop (Emily Mortimer) who started out investigating his friend's death starts to suspect him of the recent spate of gang-member deaths.

There's not much to this film other than Michael Caine's amazing acting chops and some clever action sequences, but that's totally good enough to make it 97 minutes of awesome. Caine is a much more three dimensional and frail vigilante than Eastwood's Kowalski. There's depth to his old-guy-badass, and it makes for some great action. Of particular note is an extended gun purchasing scene in which the tension is so drawn out that when it finally breaks, it's hard not to let out a cheer.

Machotaildrop

Corey Adams & Alex Craig | 2009 | 91mins | Canada / USA

Imagine if John Paizs had nephews who were a bit ADD but still really looked up to him. And imagine that those boys were raised in a some magical Winnipeg art-commune where they got to just use their imaginations all the time and only had access to pre-1990s technology. And then imagine that they were really into skateboarding, and decided to make a movie about it. The result might look something like Machotaildrop, probably the quirkiest surprise of TIFF this year.

I don't actually know whether Corey Adams and Alex Craig have a Winnipeg connection, but I saw glimpses in this of the same comic instinct that makes Paizs the funniest filmmaker Canada's ever produced. This film's nowhere near as funny as Crime Wave or Springtime in Greenland, but it's reminiscent of his style.

Walter Rhum (Anthony Amedori) lives in a curious world in which skateboarding is a regal and revered sport. Like most boys, Walter wants the elusive corporate sponsorship that will allow him to live the dream of being a pro skateboarder, and spends all his spare time putting together a VHS tape of his tricks to send to Machotaildrop, the company all aspiring pros dream of working for. While he waits for their response, Walter plays video games at the local cake & skateboard shop. When Machotaildrop finally calls, Walter drops everything to attend their prestigious academy - a remote mansion run by an eccentric Baron (James Faulkner) and his creepy, stuffed-bird-obsessed sidekick Perkins (Luk√°cs Bicskey).

Walter trains with other aspiring skate stars, battles a gang of rogue skaters called the Man Wolfs, finds himself embroiled in the Baron's scheme to open a skateboarding theme park called ApeSnake, and inevitably becomes a star. Awesome, right? Who wouldn't want to go to an amusement park centred around a giant King Kong-esque figure with an enormous snake coiled around its body?

The world of Machotaildrop is full of old-timey VHS and audio cassettes, wacky outfits, campy acting and elaborate, kooky sets. It's extremely creative, but the story's pacing is a bit off, so that it feels longer than it should and so that the stylized, over-the-top acting feels too hammy. The atmosphere here is carefully constructed, but by the end of the film's 90 minute runtime, it starts to wear thin.

Mega points for some of the most original storytelling I saw at TIFF. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite sustain. I definitely look forward to seeing what writer/director duo Corey Adams & Alex Craig do next.

I never dreamed of being famous...

We are awesome, thus Shane Rivers of Only Good Movies saw fit to interview us for his ongoing series of conversations with other critics. If you want to spend more time really getting inside our souls, please peruse our shallow answers.

OGM offers movie reviews, a message board, and a blog collecting film news and articles. There is a lot to wade through so be sure to take a look at the site. And thanks for inviting us to take part, Shane.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Wild Hunt

Alexandre Franchi | 2009 | 96 mins | Canada

For the first hour, this strange drama about LARPing is kind of funny. Erik (Ricky Mabe) has just been left by his brooding, hot-and-gothy girlfriend Evelyn (Tiio Horn). Instead of moping in his apartment (which he shares with his senile dad), Erik decides to follow her and get some answers about the ambiguous I need space-ish dumping. As it turns out, Evelyn's gone off to participate in a weekend long live action role playing event, invited by Erik's kooky brother, Bjorn (Mark Antony Krupa, who also co-wrote the screenplay).

In the LARPiverse, Bjorn is a mighty Viking warrior, Evelyn is the Viking princess, and they are poised to fight some Celts. When Erik arrives at the game's site, he quickly learns that he will get nowhere near Evelyn without donning a costume and playing along. Erik soon discovers that the Viking princess has been kidnapped by the evil Shaman Murtagh (Trevor Hayes), who intends to "kill her" in order to begin the Wild Hunt - a rampage throughout the camp that will lead to the weekend's final, crucial battle.

Erik's meddling inevitably messes up the well laid plans of the LARPers and causes significant rifts in the make-believe world. As the wild hunt draws near, the game turns terrifyingly real for some of the players. It is here, in the final act of the film, that The Wild Hunt threatens to become really interesting - but doesn't quite get there. Men who take their fantasy life all too seriously are forced to confront the realities of their choices, the harsh juxtaposition between real and imagined allegiances. The tone drops and a harsh and sobering finale is marred only by the otherwise somewhat ludicrous and contrived plot twists.

The Wild Hunt is Alexandre Franchi's first feature, and while the script wasn't stellar, the director's sense of story and pacing is not bad. A film about LARPing could have been a lot funnier than this, but Franchi tries to provide laughs without mocking the players or the game. Unfortunately, when the film gets serious, Franchi & co start taking themselves a bit too seriously as well.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Jennifer's Body

Karyn Kusama | 2009 | 102 mins | USA

Diablo Cody's first post-Juno effort is a teen horror comedy about BFFs Jennifer (Megan Fox) and Needy (Amanda Seyfried, in a very different role from her other TIFF appearance in Chloe), two very different girls who've stuck by each other since the sandbox, but find themselves growing apart when Jennifer becomes a crazy man-eater (literally).

The two girls go to a corrugated metal shack in the woods to see an emo band (fronted by Adam Brody) play. Jennifer is mesmerized, and when the bar suddenly catches fire, she's whisked away in the band's van. Needy is a bit worried about her friend's disappearance with the unsavoury rockers, but when Jennifer returns home later that night covered in blood and vomiting up some revolting black stuff, Needy becomes understandably frantic.

Pretty soon, Jennifer's back to her old self, and Needy is left trying to convince her adorable, loving boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons) that something is terribly wrong, and that the mysterious deaths of several classmates are indeed connected to what happened at the bar that night.

Chock-full of snappy, Cody-esque one liners, Jennifer's Body is sure to be loved by Cody fans and hated by her haters, but it basically worked for me as a hip (if considerably less biting and socially incisive) homage to Heathers and the like, though a few things about it did not sit well. Casually racist jokes in the script (such as Jennifer's "get a Chinese girl to buff your situation" comment, re: Needy's messy fingernails) were unnecessary and odd, especially since the world of Jennifer's Body was almost self-consciously diverse. The dysfunctional friendship between hot-hot-Jennifer and dorky Needy also made me wonder about Cody's ability to write a female character who isn't totally effed up in some way. Love her or hate her, Cody receives more media attention than any screenwriter has in decades, so it will be interesting to see whether she has the chops to ever transcend her hipster lingo and perhaps write a film about grownups.

Though it's technically been given an R rating in the states (14A in Canada), Jennifer's Body feels like a decent PG horror film. More laughs than scares.

Chloe

Atom Egoyan | 2009 | 99 mins | USA / Canada / France

Atom Egoyan's latest foray into the murky world of sexual intrigue, real and imagined betrayal, desire, longing and jealousy is a great, slow-burn thriller, up to a point. That point comes toward the end, and while the final act doesn't completely ruin the film, it certainly does make it a bit of a mess.

Chloe is really Julianne Moore's film. Her performance and the complexity of her character far outshine everyone else, though Amanda Seyfried's titular Chloe is also pretty compelling.

Moore plays Catherine, a rather prim gynecologist who's married to charming and flirtatious university professor David (Liam Neeson). Their luxuriously comfortable lives are busy with lecture tours and nights at the opera, their teenage son Michael (Max Theriot) has started tuning them out, and when David fails to turn up for his own surprise birthday party due to a missed flight, Catherine begins to suspect he's been unfaithful.

Catherine is beautiful, poised, perfectly put together, but obviously struggling with the fact that her husband gets handsomer with every wrinkle, while she feels herself fading into the background, no longer an object of anyone's desire.

Catherine's "woman of a certain age" is perfectly juxtaposed with Chloe, the very young high-priced escort who works out of a hotel near Catherine's Yorkville office. When Catherine decides to hire Chloe to try to seduce her husband, in order to prove to herself that her suspicions about him have been right all along, it's easy to see that things are not going to work out well for anyone involved. As Chloe and Catherine's relationship becomes more tense (sexually and otherwise), Seyfried's character flits between giggly teenhood and seductive womanhood all with the unhinged undertone of Fatal Attraction-esque obsession. Chloe needs love, and she wants it from Catherine, whether the other woman is aware of this fact or not. Egoyan is a master of twisted desire and disturbed sexuality, and Chloe delivers on the red-hot intrigue. Unfortunately, in the final act, the film's tone of simmering suspense turns a bit absurdly over the top.

Major bonus points for Egoyan's insistence on revising the originally San Francisco based script in order to give Toronto a chance to play itself (for once). It's both delightful and a bit strange to see locations like Cafe Diplomatico, the Rivoli, and Queen Street's streetcars not masquerading as someplace else. That works, even if the plot doesn't always.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Franklyn

Gerald McMorrow | 2008 | 98 mins | UK / France

I'm a bit late posting about my Toronto After Dark experiences this year, but one of the films that really stuck with me was Franklyn, the debut feature of UK filmmaker Gerald McMorrow, a neat little puzzle of a movie that takes place partially in the real world, and partially in the dark corners of Meanwhile City, a strange place full of religious cults, fervent believers, and a masked vigilante (Ryan Phillippe).

In present-day London a young artist (Eva Green) feuds with the wealthy mother who just doesn’t understand her, working on an intimately confessional 'art project' that involves videotaped monthly suicide attempts, which seem to be connected to her difficult and tenuous family relationships. Meanwhile, a young man (Sam Reily) tries to cope with having been left at the altar - another in what is apparently a string o failed relationships that forces him to confront his lingering feelings for a girl from his childhood. While this is going on, the masked vigilante (the lone non-believer in Meanwhile City) is on the hunt for The Individual, the leader of a malevolent religious group. As he tries to evade capture by city and hospital officials, it becomes clear that his quest is connected to the disappearance and possible death of a little girl.

It takes a long time for the three stories to begin coming together, but the journey is great fun, and the performances are all pitch perfect. My only complaint Franklyn is that the futuristic Steampunk world of Meanwhile City is so slick, stylish, painstakingly detailed and gorgeously shot that it’s a shame more of the story doesn’t take place in it. By the midway point, the edges of the fantasy world begin to slowly crumble and we're pulled into reality as the pieces of the puzzle of intersecting relationships comes into focus. Watching McMorrow reconcile the two worlds of Franklyn is rewarding, and the film fits all the disparate pieces of its story together quite seamlessly. Still, I would have been happy to watch an entire film set in the fantasy world. Once you go to the trouble of creating a universe so complete (and so beautiful) it seems a shame to let it only comprise a third of your story.