FFWD REW

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: TIFF blog day 3

Pornography zombies and gossip

The Toronto International Film Festival is at least in my experience so far incredibly well run. The media screenings are rarely over or under-booked; the programmers are adept at guessing exactly how many seats they’ll need. As far as I’ve noticed not a single movie has started late. Granted I haven’t been to a public screening yet (and this is a pretty glaring hole in my festival experience so far – I intend to fix it by going to at least one a day for the rest of the fest and making my way into the closing gala) but I can see why TIFF is held up as the standard to strive for. As for the movies themselves I’ve so far managed to avoid any real clunkers though I’ve heard rumours about a few. Buzz on Paul Gross’ Passchendaele has not been positive – at yesterday’s premiere of Pontypool a technical glitch led to a stretch of dead air before the movie began prompting someone in the crowd to yell out “it’s already better than Passchendaele.” One critic described Martyrs a French/Canadian co-production as the most irredeemably vile thing he had ever seen. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to review it as some people would take that comment as a challenge. Happily I’ve been pretty lucky with my choices.

ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO (dir. Kevin Smith)

I went into this one with highly mixed feelings. Like a lot of people I used to love Kevin Smith in high school. His Jersey trilogy (Clerks Mallrats and Chasing Amy) was nearly untouchable – chalk it up to sympathy for his perpetually heartbroken characters. Since then though those movies’ flaws have become increasingly obvious and his newer films (Jersey Girl Clerks 2) have been entirely avoidable.

Zack and Miri doesn’t start off strong either. The introductory sequence has Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks engaging in sub-par Kevin Smith repartee while Primus plays in the background and for a while it seems like Smith has managed to coax an awkwardly stiff performance from the usually reliable Rogen.

Once the porno aspect kicks in though the film becomes – oddly enough – considerably sweeter. Smith’s script still embraces melodrama and sappiness but it has a much lighter touch than usual. Rogen’s performance helps too – he’s much more capable than the majority of Smith’s leads.

As a hard-R comedy Zack and Miri is bound to attract its share of controversy. Like Young People Fucking though it’ll likely be people who haven’t seen the film doing the complaining. As it is the movie was intelligent sweet and genuinely funny – go ahead and call it a comeback.

ACHILLES AND THE TORTOISE (dir. Takeshi Kitano)

It’s probably fair to describe “Beat” Takeshi Kitano as Japan’s leading renaissance man. A screenwriter actor stand-up comedian poet videogame designer and who knows what else Kitano is renowned for his ability to excel at essentially everything he tries. Achilles and the Tortoise unfortunately is a bit of a misstep.

The film tells the tale of Machisu a Japanese boy with a passion for painting. Though he’s clearly talented he’s always one or two steps behind the trends and as such is never able to sell his work. He never gives up though always moving on to more experimental techniques and alienating friends and family in the process. Like the racer in Zeno’s famous paradox he seems doomed to never catch up.

The casting in the movie is a little off-putting. The actor playing Machisu as a “young adult” looks weathered and when Kitano takes over as the “middle-aged” version of the character each of his 61 years is visible in his face. It might be time to take a cue from Woody Allen in realizing he’s not always the best choice to play the lead in his scripts. Aside from that the movie takes far far too long to get to its meatiest bits. Machisu’s eventual insanity in pursuit of his art is quirky funny and bleak; his earlier exploits are tedious. There’s an obvious commentary on the fickle nature of art and the hazards of pursuing a muse but Achilles isn’t worth the time it takes to get there.

PONTYPOOL (dir. Bruce McDonald)

I’m not going to say much about this one as giving away spoilers would ruin a lot of the tension. And there’s tension aplenty. McDonald does a fantastic job of crafting a paranoid atmosphere in this movie about a small-town talk radio station’s morning crew’s realization that an inexplicable and horrifying news event is unfolding just outside of their studio. Aside from one scene the movie is confined to the station with the characters relying on news feeds and callers to piece together the events. Much more than a standard horror flick (people have described it as a zombie flick but that hardly does it justice) McDonald’s latest is a top-notch thriller that does a remarkable amount with just the power of words.

Side note: before the movie started I overheard the producer scrambling to find an extra seat because Brian De Palma had just been turned away at the door.

TULPAN (dir. Sergey Dvortsevoy)

Ostensibly a love story about a Kazakhstani man’s attempts to land a wife Tulpan seems more focused on the country’s desolate landscape the harshness of the its rural lifestyle and the strains those two factors put on a family. There’s very little drama here and the film’s pivotal scene revolves around a sheep giving birth. Granted that’s a pretty big deal when you’re a shepherd and the scene will induce cringes in more squeamish audience members but it doesn’t make for riveting filmmaking.

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