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A Mother of a Festival

A Mother of a Festival

Indeed it was, as Chris and I closed out a week at the Toronto Film Festival in which we saw somewhere between 55 – 60 different features, remarkably still less than 25% of the total offferings in the program. Overall I was pleased with my selections, which started out a bit shaky with some disappointments but finished with a flourish. My group of titles included a number of recurring themes including mid-life crises, professors, bar mitzvahs, sleepwalking, revenge, ghosts, heavy drinking, and moms (not necessarily mutually exclusive). In fact, one of the days featured both Bong Joon-ho’s MOTHER and Xavier Dolan’s I KILLED MY MOTHER.

More Quick Takes:

CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY (4-Stars) – “Cleveland–We’re not Detroit!” One of the more hilarious bits is this mock-PSA in Michael Moore’s latest rallying cry against those in corporate America who put greed over all else. Yes there’s the usual amount of propaganda and some will claim it’s simplistic and no stretch from his usual formula, but the film is very entertaining, intelligent, informative, both funny and touching, and far better than the trailer would indicate.

BITCH SLAP (4-Stars at Midnight/2 any other time) – Russ Meyer would be proud of this 3-buxom bad-girls-in-the- desert flick by Rick Jacobson which clearly pays homage to every violent sexploitation flick from FASTER PUSSYCAT, KILL! KILL! to Tarantino’s DEATH PROOF. Way over the top in its action, direction, performances, camerawork, and dialogue, the film boasts an amazing opening credit sequence and even appearances by Lucy Lawless and Kevin Sorbo.

LIKE YOU KNOW IT ALL (3-Stars) – Hong Sang-woo’s new film from South Korea is a too-long and intermittently funny observational comedy about a young indie art house director who’s a juror at a film festival and then goes on holiday and encounters some complex social situations. A little reminiscent of Larry David’s character in Curb Your Enthusiasm in which “stuff” just seems to happen to this guy. The parallels between the two parts of the film add a little substance to the proceedings.

VENGEANCE (4-Stars) – French icon Johnny Hallyday plays a former-hit-man-now-Parisian-chef who goes to Macau to find out who killed his daughter’s family. When he employs some gunmen from the local triad boss, the action and humor really take off in Johnnie To’s latest excursion into ultra-cool, Hong Kong gangland warfare.

MOTHER (4-Stars) – The South Korean director of THE HOST returns with this surprising and Hitchcock-ian small-town crime story about a mother who’s willing to go to any lengths to protect her simpleton son who’s been accused of murder. Cleverly plotted and darkly comic, this over-protective and almost psychotic widow brings motherhood to a whole new level and maternal melodrama to new heights.

THE PRIVATE LIVES OF PIPPA LEE (4-Stars) – An inspired ensemble cast including Robin Wright Penn, Alan Arkin, Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Julianne Moore, and Maria Bello bring life to Rebecca Miller’s new dramedy about a woman starting to unravel after moving from NYC to a Connecticut condo with her increasingly ailing older husband. Largely told in flashbacks to learn why Pippa is the way she is, this is a rich and humorous story that admirably nails its time periods.

VIDEOCRACY (3-Stars) – A buzzed-about Swedish doc about television-obsessed Italy, where Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi controls a media empire including 90% of all broadcasting while enriching his friends and beguiling the nation. Some great and jaw-dropping archival footage add to the entertainment factor, but the other subjects of the film’s focus–including a fame-seeking, no-talent martial artist/singer and a sleazy,self-obsessed celebrity photographer–don’t warrant the attention or running time.

I KILLED MY MOTHER (4-Stars) – An impressive debut by 20-year-old writer/director/star Xavier Dolan, this is a semi-autobiographical, French New Wave-infuenced coming-of-age story about a gay, angst-ridden teenager and his absolutely tortured relationship with his well-meaning mom. Funny and uncomfortable, it’s easy to see why this French-Canadian work earned three awards in the 2009 Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes.

LIFE DURING WARTIME (4-Stars) – If there was ever a filmmaker whose work is not for everyone, Todd Solondz is the one. A sequel of sorts to HAPPINESS (1998), this is yet another disturbing and hilariously vicious satire of suburbia rendered as a series of linked sketches and dialogues between two people. The three Jordan sisters are still screwed up, this time played by Shirley Henderson, Allison Janney, and Ally Sheedy, and Michael Lerner, Ciaran Hinds, Charlotte Rampling, and Paul Reubens are integral parts of the cast as well. We’ll see what company is bold enough to take a shot at releasing this perversely funny yet deeply unsettling work.

–Matthew

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