As the Toronto International Film Festival draws to a close, I caught a few more of the celebrity-driven movies, including the notorious Spring Breakers. I was also able to explore some lesser known films from around the world to get the true International experience from TIFF.
Oh, Eli Roth, we know you like to act but maybe you should have directed this one to make sure it turned out okay. Roth plays an American tourist in Chile who, with his travel buddies, gets stuck in an earthquake. There are some fun crushes and dismemberments, but the characters are so obnoxious and one dimensional, it’s not that you want them to die. You just don’t want to watch them for 90 minutes. Even with some good disaster that looks practical (at least buildings crumbling on hydraulics rather than CGI), Aftershock is just relentlessly irritating. It’s one of those movies where they throw in a rape, because that would probably happen in the chaos of a real earthquake, but it’s not edgy. It’s rather cheap actually. Director Nicolas Lopez made a hilarious introduction to the screening. He seems like a fun guy and this is his first English language movie, so maybe he’s really good en espanol.
Now this is the sort of discovery I always hope to make at a film festival. I picked this movie simply because it fit my schedule and I knew the rep handling screenings, and it came out of nowhere to blow me away. Imagine is about teaching blind people to get around without using a cane or touching everything. It is amazing. It ends up being the most visually dramatic film I’ve seen in years, since everything the characters have to do is a physical action. Ian (Edward Hogg) comes to a school in Lisbon to teach his alternative blind lifestyle. We get to learn the complex subtleties of using sound reflection to determine one’s orientation, and how your shoes make a difference when you walk. Beyond being fascinating to learn about a culture we take for granted, it’s an inspiring story. People who resigned themselves to a life of assistance realize they can be independent. It’s also juicy drama as Ian gets confronted on some of his unorthodox techniques by authorities that just want to stick blind people with canes so they don’t have to worry about them. I really hope this gets distributed. I can’t wait to own it on DVD and force my friends and family to watch it. I would love to see the further adventures of Ian as he travels the world getting in adventures with blind people. Imagine 2: Imaginer.
Out in the Dark
I decided to get my culture on and check out an Israeli drama about gay lovers. Nimer (Nicholas Jacob) meets Roy (Michael Aloni) while studying in the West Bank. Not only does Nimer have to deal with his culture accepting his lifestyle, but he’s also Palestinian so they don’t approve of him spending all this time in Tel Aviv. This is really fertile dramatic ground, multiple layers of unaccepting cultures. It’s relevant the world over and Out in the Dark is a fine illustration of a culture where every little thing is difficult for a relationship. There’s also permit issues, just going through the red tape to keep your study visa, plus underground political groups pulling at Nimer’s allegiances too. The film does some of the same things American indies do, that annoying handheld in static drama scenes, but we’re used to that language and it’s a fine example of a drama from another culture.
Shores of Hope
More culture, this film is the epic story of a friendship torn by political upheavals in the German Democratic Republic in the 1980s. Conny (Alexander Fehling) and Andreas (August Diehl) get separated when the Stasi get a hold of Andreas and send Conny to prison. This is an interesting portrait of a history that we didn’t get much information about in the states. It’s fairly familiar epic friendship territory, using the events of the decade to illustrate two lives growing apart. I wouldn’t say I was riveted or emotionally torn by the characters, but perhaps that’s the cultural difference. I still appreciate seeing a world from the point of view of those who lived it, and discovering those stories is what film festivals are all about.
Last year’s Ben Wheatley movie, Kill List, was decidedly serious and it wowed every shocked festival audience. His follow-up movie, Sightseers, is a comedy but full of plenty of shocks for humor’s sake. Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) go on a countryside vacation and end up murdering obnoxious tourists along the way. There are some gags that elicit big laughs the way Kill List elicited gasps. Some of it isn’t as funny as they think it is, but that’s comedy. We’ve seen the comic fantasy of killing annoying people (Serial Mom, The Last Supper, Super) but this is a good one. Tina joyfully justifies murder and relishes provoking Chris into a frenzy. They are kind of A-hole tourists themselves, but don’t mess with them because they’ll f*** you up.
You know, I’ve actually never seen a Harmony Korine-directed movie before, but I thought Spring Breakers was awesome. It’s like a fever dream of bad behavior, so outrageous and wrong it’s worth indulging. Yes, it’s got Vanessa Hudgens behaving badly. Selena Gomez still stays pretty clean, except for doing pot. The real breakout star is Ashley Benson, who leads the bad girls group as Brit. She is relentless. James Franco plays an outrageous character that finally fulfills his full potential. The girls go on spring break, funded by a robbery they committed, and indulge in sex and drugs while they’re in Florida. Then they get arrested and a drug dealer (Franco) bails them out, so they get a ticket to the real sex and drugs show. It’s a wild party of sex and violence that doesn’t shock me at all, but I’m impressed by the smooth flow of momentum. It’s not an indictment or warning about out of control teens. It’s just 90 straight minutes of excess with a surreal camera (both in its digital green hue and its movement) and aggressive soundtrack. It’s more of a cinematic treatise than a social one, as it should be in filmmaking.
Thanks for Sharing
No matter how many film festivals it plays at, no matter how many nominations it gets or how much money it makes, Thanks for Sharing will always be known as “the other sex addict movie.” Perhaps it offers a more hopeful portrait of recovery than Shame, though at that the film is very trite and predictable. Adam (Mark Ruffalo) keeps his addiction secret from Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow), that’s contrived. Mike (Tim Robbins) is hard on his own addict son (Patrick Fugit), probably rightly, but they’ll all learn something in the end. Neil (Josh Gad) obnoxiously uses (bad) humor as a defense mechanism but finally accepts the program. It’s interesting that sex addicts have to remove televisions and block any internet access because of temptation, so it’s illuminating to realize all the temptation in society, even video screens in the back of cabs. It’s well performed, but full of SA speeches designed to be dramatic.
Very predictable, but well meaning too. It just takes way too long to get to the obvious.
What Richard Did
What Richard Did is a little slow until Richard does what he does. Richard (Jack Reynor) is a rugby player hanging out with his teammates and macking on the ladies. Richard doesn’t do what he does until halfway through the film so I’m reluctant to spoil what Richard did. Obviously it’s something serious and it creates a dramatic shift in the film. Up to that point it was kind of obnoxious with Irish teenagers drinking and partying, as obnoxiously as their American counterparts. But it shows that we’re all the same all over the world, and when things go down, we all have a hard time dealing with it.