TIFF REVIEWS: Day 5

Sorry for the delay to anyone actively reading this blog – I’ve been taking some back pills that have put my mind in a very fatigued state and everything I’ve written has been bad at best. Anyways, I aptly entitled this day “The Films of Farrell”, as you will see why shortly.

Triage

The first film of the day is the latest film from the war-ridden mind of Denis Tanovic entitled Triage. Sporting a fresh and sober Colin Farrell, intricately showcases the mental cataclysm of knowledge, as well as the similarities that one’s physical characteristics will take on in conjunction. Tanovic sufficiently provides his viewers with enough bias to ponder about the apprehension of war without seeming at all pretentious or self-important; a trait rarely served in more recent films.

Set during the mid 1980’s, the opening shot reveals Mark Walsh (Colin Farrell), a war photographer with quieted aspirations and his best friend David (Jamie Sives), a man also working in the same profession, but obviously with less zeal than his buddy discuss their latest assignment with Elena (Paz Vega) and Diane (Kelly Reilly) – their better halves, respectively. Instantly the film displays apt symbolism as Mark is drying the bar’s tap with his unquenchable thirst for excitement and career furthering, while David timidly sips down the possibilities of his future. Mark lopsidedly exchange thoughts with his partner on their upcoming tour of work as David eye’s his pregnant girlfriend and her stomach with the hope of a less traumatizing tomorrow.

After two months of standing idly by in Kurdistan waiting for actual combat to take photos of, Mark develops a rapport with the doctor following the troops. Without any major medicines and even the majority of basic necessities, Dr. Talzani (Branko Djuric) expresses the deprivation he faces as a personified Death in his personal line of duty. Nearly every patient he faces he has to put a bullet in, in fear of them having to bleed out or agonizingly suffer with their wounds until their demise. Their conversations assert a sense of alarm into Mark who otherwise seems gleeful about running amidst bullets that pass by him and artillery shells that explode around his unscrupulous footing.

It’s only when David decides to up and leave their work in fear of his life and not witnessing the miracle of his child being born does Mark view the folly of his ways. However, he doesn’t want to have spent the last two months in terrible conditions for no financial benefit, so he runs off into the distance with the rest of the Kurdistan army.

Cut to: Mark laying on a table, debilitated; in agonizing pain. He’s speaking with the death doctor about how serious his injuries are and how worried for his life he should be. The doctor gives him the blue slip – blue and yellow slips are provided for the injured; blue means able to cure, yellow means death – that puts Mark at some ease. He’s got no major physical damage, but as the title Triage indicates, there’s something embedded in his mind keeping him from being of good health.

The rest of the film discusses the peril of a man whose witnessed some of the worst atrocities in humanity. Decapitation, contented murder, stacks of skulls – an existential nightmare. For example. when Mark arrives home from his tour Elena is eagerly awaiting him. She embraces him longingly, but Mark – still burdened by his past – cannot even coax his lust. He can’t look into a loving face after being to what appears to be his worst voyage yet and his suppression only becomes adherent.

When the story progresses, Elena’s uncle Joaquin (Christopher Lee) is brought in to examine Mark after various halfhearted attempts from other therapists fell through. There’s a dramatic subplot between Elena and Joaquin that plays out interestingly, if not for Vega’s terrible turn as Mark’s damsel.

That’s where the core of the film’s issues lays; in Paz Vega’s incapable hands. Her performance effects all those around her – even the otherwise great Farrell has issues holding a scene with the humorously banal actress. She makes the character seem laughably cliche and reduces would be emotionally impressive scenes to nothingness. Apart from the scenes she’s involved in, the acting is top-notch; the multifarious ensemble applies an authentic humanness required to portray this feature appropriately.

The emotional clarity is a tad blurred throughout, but is lucid for the majority – Tanovic drives home the complexity of anguish that war distributes to those who allow it to ravish their lives. When the film fades to black, Triage aptly establishes the theory that what happens to a man is far less significant than what happens within him. [7/10]

GetLow

The next film is one I watched only because a) It was playing at a very convenient time and b) A friend offered me a free ticket to it. What was most surprising to me was that, despite its lackluster anticipation heading into the festival, this was the Gala that seemed to be getting the best response from critics and festival-goers alike (minus Precious, of course). The feature is Get Low and it is the first feature length production from Academy Award winner Aaron Schneider.

The story starts off interestingly enough – a man on fire jumps through a second story window onto the roof of a garage, only to pick himself up and dive off of the building, escaping from the inferno but not without scars. It’s peculiar, but as you’d expect it does come into play later on when the plot has progressed. An effective opening, if misleading to the viewer because while this scene is intriguing and ferments excitement, the rest of the film does not.

We then jump to a bitter old man chasing children away from his distant abode in the middle of what looks to be a hollowed out forest. The twanging score of composer Jan Kaczmarek’s guitar is mixed into this scene with an attempt at comedy far too obvious for fans of southern gothic drama and is used way too often later on for those watching the film to recognize this as mature filmmaking. Schneider uses this two-string gimmick to enhance what little humor there is in scenes that display the protagonist as a rickety old malcontent, but rather than making a scene more funny, it feels more like a slap to the face as it’s like Schneider is saying “Alright, so you should laugh now“.

The man’s name is Felix (Robert Duvall) and he is a troubled old soul. He’s entirely introverted and has been for roughly 40 years and in that span the community he used to stand with now pass down myths about the elderly hermit down from generation to generation, evolving the mere man into a monster who resides in the woods. So much so that the reputation that precedes him has townsfolk grow pale and silent when they catch a rare glimpse of him making his way to market. Felix’s evil background is only supported when a tough hooligan approaches him with a lust for blood and is sent tumbling to the ground with two smacks of Felix’s walking stick.

Around this time we learn a little about Felix and his demeanor when he walks into a church. Here he asks for a planned burial and funeral party before he passes. This is much to the dismay of the priest who had never heard of such an odd request. The priest only asks that Felix cleanse his soul of all the wrong doing he’s done in his life – of which no one is entirely sure – which the old man takes offense to and leaves promptly with a scowl.

On the other side of the story, Felix is pursued by a funeral company headed by an a man from the city. His name is Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) and he, along side a hometown boy looking for a financial break in Buddy Robinson (Lucas Black), try cheesy gimmick after cheesy gimmick to convince Felix that they’re his best shot at having the unique ceremony that he desires. Of course, Buddy isn’t drawn to Frank’s city antics as much as he would like and feels shame when beholding his exploits, none of which Felix really buys so here you’re witness to unnecessary and unmerited melodrama.

Generally, the film is just a back and forth pondering over what will occur if Felix’s large shindig comes to fruition. Will people show up afraid that Felix will pick them off one by one with his shotgun, or will people show up only to pummel the rough essence out of the quiet old man? This ignites some rather hilarious dialogues between Frank and Felix, where Murray’s bewildered aura and deadpan reactions bring out the best bits that the film has to offer. Really, it’s Murray’s presence that keeps the film from sinking and if I had my way he’d get an Oscar nomination next year.

The intention of the film – showing a slow, rather poetic revelation of non-fiction turned folklore – is admirable. Although the climax leaves a lot to be desired considering the assiduous build-up and the ending as well as we’re never given insight into the mind of your typical inhabitant of the town, what the film tries to say is rather handsome and special. It’s passionate, but not without a bitter aftertaste; one that can only be achieved through the incessant contrivance of stringing together convention after convention until the conventional conclusion.

While the film is refined and knows what it wants to say, it feel all a little too neatly composed. Yes, everything comes to a resolve in Felix’s life and yes you get a definitive answer on who Felix really was, but in doing so you’re left with virtually nothing to ruminate over and thus the film isn’t able to be interpreted outside of hour and a half you’re watching it. It’s solid filmmaking with an impressive cast, but the script’s inability to leave food for thought is its major hindrance. There’s nothing major about this minimal feature. [6/10]

Thesunshineboy

Next up was the only other documentary apart from L’enfer de Henri-Georges Clouzot that I saw during the festival. The film is The Sunshine Boy and it was directed by spiritualist Fridrik Thor Fridriksson; a director who often imbues his films with a whimsically majestic ambiance that is unparalleled in current cinema.

The film documents a variety of subjects all linked to autism. How does it occur? What is the mystery behind otherwise plain infants suddenly be stricken with autism? And most poignantly, how can children with autism communicate? There is never a jump from the material being presented to a person staring directly at the camera discussing their problems with autism – the entirety flows casually and more honestly because of this.

At the core of the feature, there is a curious Icelandic mother named Margret (dubbed in English by Kate Winslet) attempting to divulge into the world of autism to understand her son Keli’s disorder more intimately. Her interactions with her son – especially at HALO (a center where a kind Indian woman runs a program to help autistic children express themselves easier), in an extended scene that I’d be dumbfounded to hear of someone not welling up and dropping a tear or two from sheer glee. Yes, it is that touching.

Before the film began, Mr. Fridriksson said he decided to choose this as his first documentary in well over a decade because he deeply appreciates the mystique within our world. He said that here the topic was magical enough as is and that all he had to do was point the camera and capture the naturally wondrous essence. Of course he adds a bit of exterior beauty (as seen above) to the feature to prove our planet as a parallel setting ground for such resplendence.

With a mesmerizing soundtrack that showcases the likes of Icelandic acts in Bjork and Sigur Ros, there is hardly a flaw found in this 105 minute feature. Filled to the brim with hope, The Sunshine Boy is as emotionally affecting a film as you’ll see all year. With great pacing, the interest seldom expires; it only becomes less captivating when the direction applies too much pressure to a singular story – in this case, it would be the mother’s search for knowledge. Its impressive; its isolating; its entirely Icelandic – the best documentary of the year. [9/10]

Ondine

The next feature – the second of two Colin Farrell headed ones on the day – is Ondine, a feature I was willing to skip for Rachel Weisz’s Agora until I heard about Christopher Doyle being the cinematographer and Kjartan Sveinsson (of Sigur Ros) being the composer for the film.

The concept that I had read was far different from the feature itself. The film is about a surprisingly sober fisherman named Syraceuse (Colin Farrell). Although barely dug into, you learn that our protagonist’s typical day is devoid of energy, without much human contact and very weary. Just after ruffling the feathers of Syraceuse’s characterization, the story takes a turn when the fisherman nets himself an alleged mermaid named Ondine (Alicja Bachleda) while hoisting up the large fishing net. Shocked, he immediately resuscitates her – and in a just as bizarre turn, she gives thanks by demanding him to hide her from the public eye. Because she’s beautiful and he has nothing to lose, she complies with the requests and carries along with his typical routine.

After work, the young beaut mentions that she has no home. Syraceuse, a somewhat kind individual, allows her to spend the night in his weathered shack/home. He leaves her unattended to, so as to pick up his sorrowfully ill, but optimistic young daughter Annie (Alison Barry) from school. Through conversation, the wise little soul begins to question her father’s peculiar stories about mermaids; a topic he never found to be of any interest prior. She enlightens him on the types of mermaids she’s been acquainted with through research and the scruffy seaman begins to question the origin of the gorgeous woman he saved.

In a disparate side-story, we see the life of Annie and her turgid homestead with a drunken, reckless mother and her suspiciously nice, but also constantly intoxicated boyfriend. A slightly humorous parallel is spotted within the destruction of good kidneys that the caretakers of Annie do to themselves when compared to the dismal state of Annie’s own kidneys. This works as a sweetened accessory to the already delightful story working itself along an informal, but tangible path.

Adjacent to Syraceuse’s life, Ondine has her own tiny fable to go with her placement in this quaint Irish town. Some of the most enchanting chemistry of the festival was ignited when Annie and Ondine began to form a sisterly bond – in context, it is something taken right from a Disney feature.

Despite the earnestness of the feature, there is a fair bundle of detriment that follows it around. The stories become tedious and repetitive; rarely adding any developmental significance after the first half. The humor jumps around a lot and plays most heavily for its native Irish audience – many references going over the viewer’s head. Then there’s the final quarter of the feature that is zany and draws suspicion to the events that had just taken place. Although this final chapter is by far the most interesting the film has to offer there are continuity questions, as well as evokes inquiry as to Neil Jordan’s thematic intentions.

With a top notch cast and a unique story under to attribute his intriguing latest project to, Neil Jordan has created what is perhaps his best feature to date. He aimed to please his audience (proclaiming the feature to be his “happy place” in introducing it) and did so notably. Very cheerful with sparse sadness, Ondine is a whimsical fish out of water story that will plaster a grin on your face from beginning to end. [7/10]

LeavesofGrass

Ahhhh, as a big Norton fan it does me good to see him take on such roles – especially if such roles entail a duel performance as dissimilar twins who’ve grown apart over the years, despite their obvious affinity toward intelligence. Even if a questionable synopsis, Leaves of Grass was a “must-see” for me just for the brilliant cast that had been administered.

Coincidental. There has never been a movie easier to define in just one word than Tim Blake Nelson’s latest feature and the word coincidental. From the first frame to the last, the way the film works itself out in the perturbed way Nelson envisioned is my first note of displeasure. It lacks too much substance to be taken seriously as a drama and lacks too much instant humor to be called a comedy. There’s a thriller angle that the film takes on near in the final act that is exceedingly baffling – an area where the film will just completely lose you in its frantic, disgruntled travel or will take you along for a dandy and gratifying ride; either way, strap yourself in for a bumpy conclusion.

Alright, so the formula wasn’t exactly my thing, but the story was sincere and human enough to captivate a large part of my attention. It kicks off with an absurd scene that involves an uppity intellectual university professor being desperately (and hardly humorously, might I add) seduced by a chubby little student of his. The man is Bill Kincaid (Edward Norton) and this kicks off the series of his (un)fortunate events.

After blushing his way out of a bizarre situation, Bill finds himself on the road to Little Dixie, Oklahoma – the obscure town he was raised in and boastfully left with academics on his mind over 15 years ago. He’s told by cunning, but invariably high twin Brady (Edward Norton) that their mother has passed away and that the funeral is forthcoming soon. Having not been home since his departure over a decade prior, he arrives to the unappreciative town without a pep in his step, as he knows he’s done wrong by his otherwise loving family.

Turns out mother Kincaid (Susan Sarandon) isn’t deceased and that this was all a ruse to bring the family together in a peculiar way. Actually it isn’t to bring the family together, as the concocting Brady delicately whispers to his deterred twin, but rather to put an ingenious plan into motion – entirely requiring the contribution of his reserved kin.

Affable, Brady is eye-for-eye what you’d expect a southern pot messiah to be. He’s persistent in his daily routine, genial when conversing with any sort of company (whether they be good friends or brooding competition) and quite brotherly to his brother – whereas Bill far from resembles any of these genuine traits. He’d rather speak deliberately about a single word queried by Socrates than converse honestly about family; rather lose his native accent than speak endearingly; and rather chase after romance than spend time with a brother who he hadn’t seen since high school. This makes for a rarely seen exaggeration between the distinctions of twins; a bond thought to be insusceptible to lasting dispute.

Carnality plays a big factor in the bombshell Brady drops into his brother’s lap. As a heavily hinted way to resolve the debt he owes to his family, Brady suggests that his brother play a seemingly minor role in an unfounded and absurd strategy to get the drug selling competition off his back once and for all. High at the time, Bill lazily accepts. Of course, concurrence comes into play and individuality from pot-smoking cinema takes a lethargic turn to knot all the loose ends in a yawn-inducing montage of outlandish events.

Hit and miss humor, superb ensemble acting and a message that is more hackneyed than the pace is irregular, Leaves of Grass burns slowly as it strenuously attempts to gather its apropos a trivial question no one asked. [5/10]

Hopefully I’ll be able to get through the next five days competently. I’m seeing (or will try to see) Capitalism: A Love Story, Zombieland and The Invention of Lying tomorrow, so perhaps I’ll give the TIFF reviews a day’s rest as I gather some thoughts on those three highly anticipated films. Anyways, hope you enjoyed those – here’s hoping to a more reliable pace for these from here on out.

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