Toronto--Wrap It Up, Pt. 1

by Matthew Curtis
September 16, 2007 4:23 AM
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Heading up to New York for the IFP Market after a brief pit stop back home to kiss the girlfriend, hug the kids, and get some laundry done, here's some more quick takes on films from my Toronto Film Fest experience:

Sarah Gavron's BRICK LANE (4-stars) is a subtle and beautifully acted adaptation of of Monica Ali's novel about a Bangladeshi woman living in an arranged marriage in the Muslim community in London. When she starts working to help pay the bills and gets romantically involved with an activist, her life becomes a whole lot more complicated and decisions about her family and future must be dealt with. A worthy (if familiar) immigrant drama of cultural disapproval and forbidden love.

Joe Wright's ATONEMENT (3-stars) is another handsome adaptation of a famous novel I haven't read (by Ian McEwan), this time from the director of PRIDE & PREJUDICE. A surprisingly effective Keira Knightley and LAST KING OF SCOTLAND's James McAvoy star in this multi-layered period piece about a romance between an upper-crust British beauty and a housekeeper's son prior to World War II. The set up is fine (especially with its lush shades of cream color scheme) and the ending with Vanessa Redgrave a clever touch that pulls it all together, but the battle of Dunkirk sequence that dominates the second half of the film goes on way too long--even with that amazing tracking shot. Unfortunately.

Noah Baumbach's MARGOT AT THE WEDDING (4-stars) is his star-studded sibling rivalry follow-up to his excellent and highly perceptive film about a marriage-in-ruins and divorce, THE SQUID AND THE WHALE. Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason-Leigh are the screwed-up sisters duking it out over the past, present, and the latter's choice of fiancee--an unemployed loser played by Jack Black. There's plenty of angst and neuroses here for everyone, with kids, potential ex-es, lovers, and crazy neighbors brought into the fray over one weekend in Connecticut. Hilarious at times and uncomfortable at others, the film's look is another matter altogether--going for the intimate, hand-held, home movie aesthetic, I found the print to be underlit in spots and offputting. We'll see how it plays in the burbs...

Mike Cahill's KING OF CALIFORNIA (3-stars) is a Terry Gilliam-esque father-daughter dramatic comedy from the producers of SIDEWAYS. This Mike Cahill, by the way, is a novelist and first-time filmmaker, not the Mike Cahill who co-directed the excellent documentary about Cuba, BOXERS AND BALLERINAS (2005 FFF?), with Brit Marling, and worked on LEONARD COHEN, I'M YOUR MAN and Stewart Copeland's Police movie. Michael Douglas, looking (and acting) like Don Quixote, plays a delusional ex-jazz musician recently released from a mental hospital into the care of his put-upon, latchkey teenage daughter (Evan Rachel Wood). His need to reconcile with her is at the heart of this sometimes funny and moving story, even as he sets out on a quest to find the 17th century Spanish treasure he believes is buried beneath the local Costco. Polarizing audiences who found Douglas' performance either insufferable or Oscar-worthy and the film magical or ridiculous, I sit somewhere in the middle. As usual though, Wood is very good and the ending will leave you smiling.

Last and definitely least out of this group, Hans Weingartner's RECLAIM YOUR BRAIN (2-stars) is the latest work from the director of the superior THE EDUKATORS. Starting out strong with a bold look at a coked-out, reality TV superstar producer who happens to be a total asshole, the film goes completely off the rails when his personality changes after a woman tries to kill him with her car. Our producer/hero decides to reform by gathering a merry band of misfits to start manipulating the black boxes that tabulate the national TV ratings. Thus, by "fixing" the TV ratings to reflect a desire for more intelligent programming, they will cause a cultural revolution and change society. Naive, bluntly satirical, and uncompelling, chalk this one up as a disappointment to say the least.

--Matthew

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