I'll be honest: I'm not a lifelong fan of Westerns. I used to consider them too long and boring, and I hated the whole cowboy culture they represented. After first hearing about The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, I knew I needed to see it but I wasn't really sure why. After this 2 hour, 40 minute spectacle was over, I had gained a new appreciation for Westerns. As a film buff who appreciates great cinema, exquisite acting, and visually profound theatrical experiences, I highly recommend The Assassination of Jesse James.
By now I hope you've heard of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, the western starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck. It was one of my favorite films of this year and it's definitely a visually gorgeous feast for your eyes. Up in Toronto I had the chance to sit down with writer and director Andrew Dominik and talk about some of what went on behind the camera. Andrew is a very talented filmmaker and it's obvious with The Assassination of Jesse James that he's able to achieve a fantastic sense of storytelling overlaid with some incredible cinematography. If you're curious to hear more from the mind that created this wonderful film, then you won't want to miss this interview. Read on!
Every once in a few film festivals I find that rare gem that goes unnoticed in the mainstream movie world yet instantly becomes one of my all-time favorites. This year it was Jessica Yu's Ping Pong Playa from the Toronto Film Fest where I was brought along unknowingly to a screening without being sure what to expect. I was in for a treat: a hilarious comedy that had me laughing so hard I scared the people in theater next to me. Screw the terrible Balls of Fury, Ping Pong Playa is the ping pong movie that should be in the spotlight!
After screening 20 movies at a film festival you start to notice patterns: styles, production techniques, story trends, and even actors popping up in multiple movies. At the Toronto Film Festival this year there was one actress in particular who stood out in two of the fest's greatest, and certainly most unique, films: Juno and The Tracey Fragments. Her name: Ellen Page, the 20-year-old acting sensation who scared the living crap out of all men in Hard Candy and later stole the heart of Bobby "Iceman" Drake in X-Men 3 as Kitty Pryde. If there's any one actor who deserves to be mentioned out of everyone at the Toronto Film Fest, it's her.
Chrysalis feels a lot like Equilibrium - a futuristic science fiction film about moral issues featuring some great hand-to-hand fight scenes. Directed by first-time French filmmaker Julien Leclercq, the film takes place in Paris in the year 2025 and follows Police Lieutenant David Hoffman (Albert Dupontel) on his search for a notorious smuggler. The plot eventually dives into the depths of murder and moral issues like altering ones mind and dreams in order to become someone else entirely. Leclercq exquisitely portrays a vivid futuristic world without a gigantic budget or shots of Paris with futuristic CGI alterations, and yet the look and feel of the film is certainly sci-fi.
Yesterday (Friday) was my 7th and final full day at the Toronto International Film Festival and I will without a doubt say I am beat. There have been many sleepless nights, many hours spent traveling on the subway or in cabs, and many, many movies screened. In the end I saw a total of 20 films here in Toronto and I will say unfortunately that it was not a great experience. This festival is one of the most poorly organized and poorly executed festivals out there and is so mainstream and so public that it's almost annoying to go to screenings.
As I sit here in my hotel room pondering how to rate the latest batch of films I saw here in Toronto, I start to get excited for a number of the films I didn't even see yet: Eastern Promises, No Country for Old Men, Nothing is Private, and plenty more. While all the films I have seen here have been great, my consensus so far is that I really haven't seen anything truly extraordinary. Just last night I saw two more fairly hyped films that turned out to be yet again just mediocre. There are only a few rare comedies, incidentally, that have stuck out. Which ones are they?
The original creator of the modern cinematic zombie, George A. Romero, is back at it again this time with a very low budget independent film called Diary of the Dead. The concept is the key: the entire film is seen from the point-of-view of the filmmaker, a budding student by the name of Jason (Joshua Close) from the University of Pittsburgh (a throwback to Romero's zombie origins) who, while out filming his student movie, gets caught up in a zombie epidemic. Jason and his friends attempt to travel home in their Winnebago while dodging hordes of zombies and citizens seeking survival that are willing to use deadly force to maintain it.
I'm currently sitting in our nice, new hotel room in Toronto in the midst of Day 5 here at TIFF. Things are really starting to wind down and get quieter; the fest in general seems to moving much more slowly and while each and every screening is still sold out, the crowds seem to be less in number. I've got screenings of Married Life and Sukiyaki Western Django left to catch tonight and a few more big ones this week. Is the fest improving? Not at all, it still feels like a drawn-out, unorganized lump of some half-exciting movies. And I'm still searching for a yet-to-be-found "hidden gem".
The quote above comes from quite close to the end of the film and although it doesn't sum up most of why Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) ventures into the Alaskan wilderness alone, it does hit the hardest. Into the Wild follows Alexander Supertramp (the name Christopher gives himself) on his adventure across the country and eventually up into Alaska to live off of the land. He starts off as a college graduate, the son of two unsuited parents, and brother of Carine (Jena Malone) who narrates the story. Based on the non-fiction book by Jon Krakauer, Alexander decides to leave home, burn all of his money and identification cards, and hitchhike his way around the US meeting new friends and growing into a man before hiking into Alaska and discovering his new home - the "magic" bus.
Imagine being completely immobile from head to toe except for your eye and eye-lid, being forced to communicate entirely through blinks. That's the real-life story told in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and it's a harrowing personalized look at that life that Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) had to live after barely surviving a coma-inducing stroke. Told fascinatingly by filmmaker Julian Schnabel (Before Night Falls), Butterfly throws the audience headfirst (literally) into the film by using a first-person point of view right off the bat and for a majority of the film. While not every scene is in first-person, it's not only a moving film but also a thrilling experience being forced to live in that same world that Jean-Dominique did.
This colorful and entertaining acid trip into the world of the Beatles and a heartfelt love story is both aurally charming and visually thrilling. Across the Universe is simply a musical told through over 30 Beatles songs and an excessive palate of actors and visuals spawned from the mind of Julie Taymor (Titus, Frida). When the young Jude (Jim Sturgess) decides to leave England and travel to America pre-Vietnam War to find his father, he quickly befriends Max (Joe Anderson) and falls in love with Max's sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). On the top, Across the Universe is a love story, but further in it's an often-confusing mess of characters and scenes.