The rest of the titles in my Canuck movie marathon last week:
DETROIT METAL CITY (3-stars) - Incredibly silly but frequently hilarious, plus Gene Simmons in a cameo as metal guitar god Jack Il Dark. Based on a popular manga series, film focuses on a complete dork with a mop top who loves to sing sunshiney bubble-gum pop songs. Unfortunately the only gig he can get is as the foul-mouthed Sir Krauser, leader of the fastest rising death-metal band in Japan, complete with outrageous costumes and demon make-up. But what happens if his family and college crush find out? Good midnight fare and some inspired lunacy, but slapstick and wacky-situation haters may tire of it quickly.
IS THERE ANYBODY THERE? (4-stars) - Michael Caine plays a crusty retired magician and widower who's reluctantly moved into a nursing home. The facility is run by the parents of Bill Milner (the adorable lead from SON OF RAMBOW), and he's obsessed with ghosts and what happens after death. Predictably, these two form a friendship and learn plenty from each other, and this is a nicely acted comedy-drama that tugs at the heartstrings. A change of pace for BOY A director John Crowley.
WHO DO YOU LOVE (3-stars) - The Chess Records story as directed by multiple Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks. Two Jewish junkyard owners in 1940s Chicago open a nightclub and soon are taking the gamble of putting out their own records. The fact that Willie Dixon came on board early on and helped add Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley to their roster went a long way to establishing the label's success. Keb Mo handles a lot of the soundtrack duties (and plays Waters' guitarist Jimmy Rogers), and there's some nice performances by Allesandro Nivola as the ambitious and driven Leonard Chess and Chi McBride as Dixon, even if the whole thing feels a bit like a quality TV movie.
$9.99 (4-stars) - Easily one of the most ambitious films of the festival. An Israeli-Australian co-production featuring the voices of Geoffrey Rush and Anthony LaPaglia and amazing stop-motion animation to depict a cross-section of city dwellers pondering the larger questions in life. The characters are from short stories by Etgar Keret, the Israeli
author behind WRISTCUTTERS: A LOVE STORY and JELLYFISH, and director and co-writer Tatia Rosenthal has exceeded the promise of her animated short from a couple of years ago, A BUCK'S WORTH. My suspicion that short was actually part of something much larger proved to be correct as it turns out to be the opening scene of the feature (and it works perfectly).
STILL WALKING (5-stars) - Hirokazu Kore-eda, director of AFTER LIFE and NOBODY KNOWS, has created a quiet masterpiece about a family reunion that's his best film in years. The intergenerational dynamics, subtle resentments, and unresolved conflicts are superbly depicted as the daughter and her family and the middle son with his new (widowed) wife and her kid spend a weekend with their elderly parents. The reason for the get-together is the 15th anniversary of the heroic drowning death of the eldest son, and the annual visit from the boy that he saved (now a failure of a man) is unfortunately part of the festivities as well. All of this plays much lighter than it sounds, with lots of gentle humor and warmth as well as enticing dishes. Somebody should pick this up!
JCVD (4-stars) - One of the true surprises and no-shit-sensations of the festival. In this meta-movie parody, the Muscles from Brussels, Jean-Claude Van Damme, plays a version of himself: the washed-up action hero in an ugly custody battle with his wife over their daughter, who is actually losing roles to Steven Seagal. During a brief stopover in his Belgian hometown, Van Damme heads into a post office to make a money transfer and stumbles into a robbery and hostage situation. But the authorities have no idea the bad guys are already in the building and think JCVD is so desperate that he's the one responsible. An ingenious idea for a film that's both suspenseful and very funny in spots, and overall entertaining as hell. And damn--who knew JCVD could really act?