These words from the lips of the youngest son in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s sublime STILL WALKING seem to sum up many of the themes on display in the group of films I just happened to choose to see up in Toronto. Less an excuse for incompetence or failure of some kind and more of an acceptance of who we are and what limitations exist in the cards we’re dealt, this statement resonated more and more as the week came to a close. So here’s the lowdown on the next group of films:
SUGAR (4-stars) – Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, creators of HALF NELSON, return with this subtly observed drama about the immigrant experience in America. Their focus is a hot pitching prospect from the Dominican Republic who gets called up to spring training in Arizona and then the minor leagues in Iowa. Unfortunately, homesickness, injuries, and the language barrier all work against Sugar fulfilling his American dream. Much more than a sports movie, this is a film that really makes you care about its characters.
NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH (4-stars) – Loosely inspired by the Valerie Plame case, Rod Lurie’s new political thriller concerns itself with one woman’s fight to stand up for her principles, no matter what the cost. Kate Beckinsale, in her second strong performance in a row after SNOW ANGELS, plays a reporter who outs a CIA agent (the equally strong Vera Farmiga) that had uncovered some potentially damaging info about some lies coming out of the White House. Then all hell really breaks loose. Matt Dillon, Angela Bassett, David Schwimmer and a pitch-perfect Alan Alda round out a superb cast in this slick and entertaining work.
KISSES (4-stars) – A most pleasant surprise. Young teenagers Kylie and Dylan run away from their miserable home situations to downtown Dublin, and over the course of one night, have a series of adventures both charming and unsettling. Both actors are really good and the film cleverly moves from dismal, grainy black and white to full-blown color and back again. But the Irish accents are so tough, the film really should be subtitled for non-Gaelic audiences. Kudos for telling a solid story in only 72 minutes as well!
SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK (4-stars) – Now here’s one to argue about..Charlie Kaufman, the writer of ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, ADAPTATION, and BEING JOHN MALKOVICH makes his directorial debut with this daring, challenging, surreal, frequently humorous, and (many would say) infuriating story that will make your head spin. The brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a hypochondriac playwright and theater director whose latest project swallows up his life and everyone around him–he builds replicas of everything in his world and hires actors to play the parts, and soon it’s hard to distinguish between reality and dramatic recreation. I find the casting of Emily Watson as the Samantha Morton character particularly inspired, since I used to confuse them all the time back in the mid-90s.
THE WRESTLER (5-stars) – Darren Aronofsky’s Venice winner is easily his most conventional film yet, and it’s superb. It also had the biggest lines and hottest buzz of any press screening at the festival. In the role he was born to play (and may just get an Oscar nomination for), Mickey Rourke embodies a one time minor wrestling star now 25 years past his prime, who’s a total screw-up but doesn’t know how to do anything else. Evan Rachel Wood is his estranged daughter and a sexy Marisa Tomei is his stripper friend/possible romantic interest. Welcome back Mickey!
THE OTHER MAN (2-stars) – Where did this one go wrong? Quite possibly the worst film I saw at the festival, it couldn’t have had more pedigree: the fine cast of Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, and Antonio Banderas in an adultery thriller filmed in England and Milan by the director of NOTES ON A SCANDAL, Richard Eyre. But this story blew chunks, the ending is ridiculous, and Banderas is an embarrassingly bad cliche. Must to avoid!
The rest of the Toronto round-up coming soon…