It’s always interesting when seeing 4 or 5 films a day like we do here in Toronto to make the odd connections between films. Sometimes it’s coincidences like Sam Riley–who was so great as Ian Curtis of Joy Division in CONTROL–starring in BRIGHTON ROCK, and then the very next press screening I attend happens to be THE TRIP with Steve Coogan, who for some ironic reason is listening to Joy Division’s “Atmosphere” in the car while driving in the pastoral British countryside. Sometimes it’s a recurring action or important factor in a number of the films I’ve chosen, like projectile vomitting for instance (always popular for dramatic effect),or Mormons or children in peril. And sometimes it’s the talent involved, which came to mind when I opened my day with a film starring Christopher Plummer (BEGINNERS) and ended it with a film starring his daughter, Amanda (GIRLFRIEND).
Not sure if a bunch of people went home after the big opening weekend, but 4 out of my 5 screenings today were well below capacity. Or maybe it’s just the films I’m choosing…
More Film Short-Takes:
THE HUMAN RESOURCES MANAGER (3 1/2 stars) – Mark Ivanir gives a terrific performance as the HR manager of a Jerusalem bread factory who tries to do the right thing by returning the body of a suicide -bombing victim to her tiny hometown in Russia. That his transnational roadtrip becomes a bureacratic nightmare is no surprise, but Israeli director Eran Riklis (THE LEMON TREE) has created a moving, smart, sometimes very funny tragicomedy.
TAMARA DREWE (3 stars) – Stephen Frears’ latest is a provincial farce and picturesque comedy of manners set at a writer’s retreat in the UK countryside. Based on a comic turned graphic novel by Posy Simmonds that was in turn a spin on Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, the film follows the disruption caused by the return of a former wallflower-now attractive and successful young woman to her family home. Breezy and fun with a cast that’s a hoot, it’s not as sexy or funny as the trailer looks but still a probable crowd pleaser.
13 ASSASSINS (3 1/2 stars) – Takashi Miike is full of surprises. This time, with the exception of a limbless woman and bulls stampeding with their backs on fire, it’s the fact that he’s made such a straight ahead, almost classical samurai drama. A remake of another film with the same name from 1963, the action is set in 1844 as a group of samurai are secretly hired to take out the Shogun’s brother, a monster who rapes and kills just for the hell of it and whose bloodlust seems to know no bounds. Plenty of gore, hari-kiri, and an awesome sound mix, along with an epic 45 minute showdown set in a booby-trapped mountain village, make this a must-see for spectacle and Japanese film fans.
MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED! (3 stars) – How can you go wrong with a title like that? Mark Hartley, director of the Aussie exploitation survey doc, NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD, sets his sights on the B-movie explosion in the budget-friendly Philippines starting in the early 1970s. A treasure trove of trailers, film clips, and bizarre, often hilarious production tales, the film smartly uses contemporary interviews with the likes of Roger Corman, Pam Grier, Joe Dante, Allan Arkush, John Landis, Sid Haig, and many of the other actors involved in some of the best (and worst) exploitation titles ever. Somebody find me Weng-Weng!
BEGINNERS (3 stars) – A much more mature work than his previous THUMBSUCKER, Mike Mills’ new film is a smart and touching dramatic-comedy about love, loneliness, and family. Ewan McGregor plays Oliver, an illustrator who only learns that his 75-year-old father (Christopher Plummer) is gay upon the death of his mother. And once his father comes out, he lives his remaining short time to the fullest. When he too passes away, Oliver is left with his father’s Jack Russell terrier (who’s got a great personality of his own) and lots of confusion about relationships and his past. Told with flashbacks and some interesting visual devices, this is a thoughtful and funny film about opening up.
BRIGHTON ROCK (2 1/2 stars) – A somewhat disappointing remake of the classic John Boulting film from 1947 that made Richard Attenborough a star, this new adaptation of the Graham Greene novel moves the action into the early 60s amidst the gang wars between the Mods and the Rockers (QUADROPHENIA, anyone?). Sam Riley from CONTROL plays Pinkie, the young thug trying to make his mark in the vicious gangland culture of this UK seaside coastal town. Helen Mirren and John Hurt have decent supporting roles, but the films overblown music score doesn’t make what’s happening on the screen any more profound.
THE TRIP (3 1/2 stars) – The impressively versatile Michael Winterbottom, Steve Coogan, and Rob Brydon are together again after their brilliantly funny TRISTAM SHANDY: A COCK AND BULL STORY from five years ago. This time Coogan is asked to write a magazine piece on visiting historic locations and dining at gourmet restaurants in the English countryside, and he asks Brydon to come along as a last resort. Shifting between fact and fiction, their one week journey and largely improvised dialogues, including competing impressions that have to be heard to be believed, will have you grinning from ear to ear or holding your sides in pain from laughing so hard. Perhaps a bit long at 100 minutes (maybe I was just tired) but inspired and brilliant.