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Toronto Diary: Meek’s Cutoff and Mysteries of Lisbon Are Snoozes; SUPER is Rousing

Toronto Diary: Meek's Cutoff and Mysteries of Lisbon Are Snoozes; SUPER is Rousing

After Meredith Brody’s sustained Toronto pace of viewing and reviewing films, I felt compelled to take her to dinner, where we were joined by our pals Bernie and Martin, who scored a table at one of Toronto’s finest, Nota Bene, after which she composed her latest missive (in which she’s tougher on Meek’s Cutoff than I was in Venice):

Today, more than half-way through the festival, with news of acquisition deals drifting on the breeze like autumn leaves, both my body and my schedule began to betray me. (I don’t know why – aren’t five hours of sleep enough to sustain one on a regular basis? I remember reading that not only does Martha Stewart get by on four hours a night, but that she sleeps with the light on so she can start to multi-task immediately if she happens to wake up while it’s still dark outside.)

Anyway I show up at 9:15 a.m. for the 4 ½ hour Raul Ruiz film, Mysteries of Lisbon, which is a mere snip compared, say, to such real marathons previously shown at the festival as Béla Tarr’s nearly-eight-hour Satantango and the roughly-seven-hour The Best of Youth — which I point out was made as a TV miniseries.

And, since I love to watch TV miniseries all in one gulp (especially though not exclusively if they’re visible on the big screen), I felt quite prepared. The best thing I saw at Telluride in 2005 was the three-hour BBC adaptation of the Patrick Hamilton trilogy entitled Twenty-Thousand Streets Under the Sky, which is when I first became aware of the amazing Sally Hawkins (buy it if you’re at all Anglophilic); and David Thomson declared last year’s Red Riding trilogy “better than the Godfather” (I disagree, but watching all three in a row was much the best way to see it).

The Ruiz started well enough – beautiful setting (stately 19-century mansions in Portugal, Spain, France, and Italy), intense and attractive characters tracked by a fluid camera, intricately narrated stories of sexual jealousy and betrayal. But eventually the stories and the shots felt laborious and repetitive, as did the solemn, somewhat repressed acting style – when the blonde and rather animated Léa Seydoux arrived, among a sea of raven tresses and passive faces, I felt my interest revive. I didn’t cut my losses and escape during the 10-minute intermission between Parts One and Two, but stuck it out, with diminishing returns.

Afterwards I went straight in to Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff, only to find that it was yet another of the endurance genre that I’ve recently seen several of at Telluride and Toronto (vide The Way Back, 127 Hours, and Essential Killing). At first I greeted this saga of a wagon train of three families trekking across the Oregon Trail in 1845 (shot in the classic Academy aperture) with delight: a Western! Having just spent a day in Monument Valley with tears in my eyes, I was thrilled to be back in the saddle again, so to speak.

But, as the trail grew endless, and supplies and water ran out, and nobody seemed to have anything very interesting to say, or even very much to say at all (the eclectic, even tantalizing cast included Michelle Williams, Will Patton, Shirley Henderson, real-life couple Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan, and an unrecognizable Bruce Greenwood), my hopes grew faint along with the doughty pioneers. (It also had the feeling of that other genre, named “chic minimalism” by a friend.) The movie started in the middle and ended in the middle, and nothing very much happened inbetween – which I think might be said all Reichert’s somewhat more likable earlier films, Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy, too.

I very much doubt whether SUPER, the brightly-colored yet extremely dark comedy starring Rainn Wilson as a self-styled superhero without any superpowers — from James (Scooby-Doo and Dawn of the Dead, take your pick) Gunn — will be Oscar-nominated. But I was with it nearly all the way (SPOILER ALERT until the adorable Ellen Page was dispatched in an unusually graphic manner). The casting was witty (happy to see Nathan Fillion, Michael Rooker, Lloyd Kaufman, Linda Cardellini, even Zach Gilford, alongside Kevin Bacon, and Liv Tyler). Nice to see messy maximalism after several hours of chic minimalism.

And even nicer to have a real, delicious, sit-down meal – with IndieWIRE’s Anne Thompson and my hosts Martin Knelman of the Toronto Star and Bernadette Sulgit – at the excellent Nota Bene on Queen at University. Prosecco! Lobster salad! Ceviche! Cavatelli with duck ragu! A $19 hamburger that was worth every penny! Rapini sautéed with lots of garlic! Wild salmon with even wilder mushrooms! Sticky toffee pudding! We gave the meal four thumbs up. Tomorrow would be another day, and at last I felt properly nourished for it.

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