TIFF 2010. Special Presentations (1)

David Hudson

A whole lot of people have had a whole lot to say about the Special Presentations in Toronto, meaning that, even after stringent filtering, coverage of the coverage will have to be broken up into two parts. This first batch rounds up a dozen titles that were, evidently, among the most seen and discussed.

"An unflinching gaze into the heart of pure evil and a perverse genre entertainment par excellence, Kim Ji-woon's I Saw the Devil takes the serial-killer thriller as far into the realm of pulse-pounding mayhem as it has ever gone," declares Rob Nelson in Variety. "When a pregnant young woman is brutally murdered by a hammer-wielding maniac, her special-agent b.f., Joo-yeon (Lee Byung-hun), goes on a rampage, stalking the killer as ruthlessly as any psycho.... Kim has battled the censors in South Korea and lost, but Magnet Releasing will issue the director's cut Stateside."

"By now, the notion of the revenge-seeker becoming a monster in pursuit of a monster is old hat, no more so than in Korean films like [Park Chan-wook's], where the theme is often front and center," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "But I Saw the Devil is less about that than the immutability of evil, which can't be transformed or obliterated, but simply exists, cold and black, as a force of absolute destruction. Though a welcome streak of dark comedy makes it more palatable, this is an undeniably tough movie to watch at times... But damned if it isn't riveting from the word 'go,' a nasty piece of work for those who can stomach it."

Kurt Halfyard at Twitch: "I Saw the Devil is a movie of oneupmanship usually reserved for comedies — here it is a oneupmanship of tragedies that ripple outward from the two crazy men at the center."

Tim Robey keeps "waiting for [Kim's] films to develop beyond snazzy, self-adoring showreels with an ever-dwindling sense of actually going anywhere. A Tale of Two Sisters was entirely promising and allowable in this regard, without quite, for me, being the full banquet many enjoyed; A Bittersweet Life left me as thoroughly cold as gratuitously bloody existential macho cool always seems wont, if not actively designed, to do; and The Good, the Bad, the Weird wore out its crazy, caffeinated welcome long before the 130-minute running time crawled to a cherished end. Even longer and flinging out a frankly batshit pick'n'mix of customised serial-killer revenge games, I Saw the Devil is operatically grisly if nothing else."

Update: "I Saw The Devil's already infamous levels of violence are formidable, not due to the excesses of the splatter as much as the creativity and cover-your-eyes realism of it," writes Alison Willmore at IFC.com. "By the finale, your sympathies have slid so that the outcome of the battle is almost incidental — whatever justified revenge set the plot in motion has long ago faded away in the face of the opponents' luxuriant sadism."

The "world premiere of Submarine — writer-director Richard Ayoade's enchanting adaptation of the novel by Joe Dunthorne — marked, for me, the first real introduction of a potentially major new talent at this year's Toronto International Film Festival," wrote Mark Olsen for the Los Angeles Times about a week ago. "Many people are already aware of Ayoade's skills as a director and performer on British television shows like The IT Crowd and his work directing music videos for the likes of Vampire Weekend. Regardless, Submarine is just the kind of discovery one comes to Toronto for — a moody, melancholy teen film that feels both timeless and up-to-the-minute fresh."

The novel, "in which a smart and eccentrically gifted 15-year-old muses about school, girls, movies, parents and life in general, is the kind of book that almost never is made into a film of matching quality," writes Ray Bennett in the Hollywood Reporter. "Richard Ayoade's movie Submarine is a sublime exception."

"Submarine is funny and stylish, shot in a way that gives the recent past an archaic glow, as though lit by candlelight and the setting sun," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "My one complaint about the movie — and it's a pretty major one — is that it frequently ranges too far into indie-quirk, like a lot of similarly Wes Anderson-influenced films. The difference is that Ayoade also gets the painful awkwardness beneath Anderson's stylization."

More from Alex Billington (FirstShowing), Todd Brown (Twitch), Peter Debruge (Variety), James McNally and Allan Hunter (Screen). Stephen Saito interviews Ayoade for IFC.com. Twitch has clips.

"In their first two films, Half Nelson and Sugar, the writer-directing team of Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden managed the notable feat of tackling potentially trite subject matter in original, deeply affecting ways," writes Tim Grierson for Screen. "It's Kind of a Funny Story, their first adaptation and first attempt at comedic material, traces the exploits of a depressed 16-year-old who admits himself into a psychiatric hospital, and the filmmakers adroitly sidestep the clichés of the insane-asylum genre. However, the determinedly low-key style requires a patience that isn't always rewarded."

"Fleck and Boden try to shift into quirky comedy/drama of the Fox Searchlight school, but they lack the snap for it," is the way the AV Club's Scott Tobias puts it. "As a much more troubled patient who befriends [Keir] Gilchrist, [Zach] Galifianakis embodies what the film might have been: Funny and soulful, damaged yet generous and wise in his dealings with others. For anyone ready to write off Galifianakis as a one-note slob, suck on this."

More from Alex Billington (FirstShowing), Justin Chang (Variety), JR Jones (Chicago Reader), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Michael Rechtshaffen (THR), Kim Voynar (Movie City News) and Scott Weinberg (Cinematical). Meantime, the Playlist reports that Boden and Fleck's "adaptation of Marisha Pessl's excellent novel Special Topics in Calamity Physics appears to be dead.... The better news is that the pair have begun work on another project that is still in its very early stages.... 'It'd be another ensemble piece, it's a multiple character thing. It'll be fun, Fleck told us." And Mekado Murphy talks with the filmmakers, too, for the New York Times. Jamie Stuart's cut together a video report on the red carpet premiere in New York.

Made in Dagenham. "The true story of how the 1968 Ford Dagenham Strike by 187 sewing machinist, which led to the introduction of the Equal Pay Act, is told in genteel fashion by the Calendar Girls director Nigel Cole," writes Kaleem Aftab in the Independent. "The emphasis is placed firmly on light-heartedness, domestic relationships and the value of friendship, with discussions about the condition of workers in 1960s Britain kept firmly in check. Consequently, it packs an emotional rather than political punch that will please audiences more than trade unionists."

"Veteran producers Stephen Woolley and Elizabeth Karlsen decided to create fictional figures rather than depict the actual individuals involved," writes David Cox in the Guardian. "They thus gave themselves free rein to do exactly as they wished. Unfortunately, they seem to have taken the low road. Their film is a cartoonish take on history. It may be based on fact, but it never has the ring of truth."

Justin Chang in Variety on the performances: "Sporting a cute 60s bob, [Sally] Hawkins makes Rita (a composite of two or three women) an irresistible fount of inner strength and no-bull common sense, and her ability to seem surprised by her own outspokenness lends the picture a shot of much-needed spontaneity. [Daniel] Mays is excellent as her loving but far-from-progressive husband, and Geraldine James and Jaime Winstone are strong as factory girls who depend on Rita's resilience for strength. [Miranda] Richardson dominates the final scenes as a steely politico who knows the challenge of being a woman in power, while Rosamund Pike, as an upper-crust housewife sympathetic to Rita's cause, nearly upstages Hawkins in their moving scenes together."

More from Mark Adams (Screen), Ray Bennett (THR), Xan Brooks (Guardian), Kim Voynar (Movie City News) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline). Profiles of Hawkins: Patrick Goldstein (Los Angeles Times) and Leigh Singer (Independent). The Telegraph's David Gritten talks with Woolley and Karlsen.

John Curran's Stone. "Good news first," announces the AV Club's Scott Tobias. "For the first time since maybe City by the Sea — though I missed the ill-received likes of Everybody's Fine, Righteous Kill and Hide and SeekDe Niro gives a real performance, doing subtle work as a corrections office who's made a living deciding the fates of parolees, but isn't exactly above reproach. [Edward] Norton is also fine as a wily prisoner who employs his sexy wife ([Milla] Jovovich) into coaxing a favorable report out of De Niro."

"Thick with moral ambiguity — too thick, unfortunately — Stone proves to be a character drama that confuses heavy brow-furrowing for an insightful dissection of several ethically slippery individuals." Writing for Screen, Tim Grierson finds it "impossible to fully lose oneself in the performances once the narrative surrenders to the filmmakers' heavy-handed examinations of guilt, redemption and the need for spiritual transcendence."

Still, IFC.com's Stephen Saito finds Jovovich to be "one of the most memorable femme fatales in some time." More from Erik Childress (Cinematical), Peter Debruge (Variety), Kirk Honeycutt (THR) and Peter Knegt (indieWIRE). Michael Ordoña profiles Jovovich for the LAT and David Fear talks with Norton for Time Out New York.

Tamara Drewe premiered in Cannes, has already played in the UK and will open Stateside on October 8. "Having previously investigated the gamemanship of seduction in screen versions of Choderlos de Laclos, Jim Thompson, and Colette, Stephen Frears turns his attention to Thomas Hardy with this insistently frothy adaptation of Posy Simmonds's graphic-novel modernization of Far from the Madding Crowd," writes Fernando F Croce at the House Next Door. "Frears's tone of one-note ribaldry flattens the characters' foibles and Hardy's themes with equal broadness."

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw will "admit that Tamara Drewe does not have or aspire to the subtlety and elegance of Simmonds's original drawings, but it's a tremendously effective, forthright entertainment, and Frears and [screenwriter Moira] Buffini make their craftsmanship look easy, creating a soap-farce pastoral of Brit bourgeois out-of-towners."

More from Philip French (Observer), Ryan Gilbey (New Statesman), Wally Hammond (Time Out London), Noel Murray (AV Club), Sukhdev Sandhu (Telegraph) and Amy Taubin (Film Comment).

"Perversely eccentric and frequently inert, screenwriter Mitch Glazer's directorial debut, Passion Play, will benefit from some of the well-known names attached (Mickey Rourke, Megan Fox, Bill Murray), but the near-painful hipness of the production will yield poisonous word of mouth," warns John Anderson in Variety. "A lot of talent is assembled, not much is accomplished and the incoherence seems to be contagious: Estimable DP Christopher Doyle lights the film as if it were an illuminated snowglobe."

In Toronto, this "expressionistic fable was received as something of a spectacular folly, made all the more crushing in that Glazer had first written it as an expression of his feelings while in the process of falling in love with his now-wife, actress Kelly Lynch," writes Mark Olsen for the Los Angeles Times. "The script has been around for some time — Glazer noted that star Megan Fox was 3 years old when he first sold the script — while the screenwriter held tight to the idea of directing it himself.... While it is difficult to beat up on something made with as much seemingly genuine sincerity as Passion Play, it comes together in such a loopily haphazard way that it is hard to think of it as even much of a movie."

For Screen's Allan Hunter, Glazer "seems intent on channeling the spirit of 1980s Alan Rudolph films in his long gestating directorial debut Passion Play. His gauche romantic fable serves up the corniest of clichés as it lugubriously charts the redemptive love between a once famous trumpet player [Rourke] and a carnival show freak with huge wings [Fox]. The central premise fails to beguile or convince, even on a fantasy level, leaving the film little more than a whimsical curio."

More from Monika Bartyzel (Cinematical) and Ray Bennett (THR). Movieline's ST VanAirsdale interviews Glazer and Lynch. THR's Borys Kit reports on the Q&A.

"In 2008, consummate Italian theater and film star Toni Servillo wowed the international film world with a small but unforgettable role in Matteo Garrone's Gomorrah and as the titular figure of Paolo Sorrentino's Il Divo," Natasha Senjanovic reminds us in the Hollywood Reporter. "In Stefano Incerti's Gorbaciof, Servillo wows again."

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw: "Servillo plays a low-level hoodlum and gambling addict in Naples with a birthmark on his forehead that has earned him the obvious nickname: Gorby, or Gorbaciof. He falls in love with a beautiful Chinese girl, and his plans to make enough money to allow them both to get away leads to desperate trouble. Servillo has such a vivid, theatrical presence as an actor. Tthe mannerisms he puts together for a character are artificial and yet easy and fluent and confident and, like an English stage actor, he has got a good walk going: the first sequence of the movie simply tracks him as he does his manic swagger down the street."

Servillo imbues "the role with an attention-grabbing originality that inhabits a world only playing on the edge of reality," finds Jay Weissberg in Variety, "like a bizarre figure in a Neapolitan version of an Edward Hopper painting. For some it may be too much of a caricature, but it's hard not to be impressed by the totality of the creation, including the effluvial rush of words punctuating periods of silence."

At Cineuropa, Gabriele Barcaro notes that Incerti sees no "need for stylistic flourishes (Pasquale Mari's cinematography is, nevertheless, stunning) or directorial virtuosity, preferring to focus on his protagonist."

"Rarely has a movie this racist, this gory, this self-satisfied and with this many close-ups of Shu Qi been so boring, but Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen is so packed with cliches, so stuffed with under-rendered digital effects and so clogged with half-baked plotlines that it induces yawns where it wants to provoke fist-pumping nationalism," blogs Grady Hendrix.

At the AV Club, though, Noel Murray gives Andrew Lau's latest a B: "If you thought that Ang Lee's movie would've been better if it'd been called Lust, Caution, Ass-kicking, then have I got a motion picture for you."

A bit of background from Justin Chang in Variety: "First incarnated onscreen by Bruce Lee in 1972's Fist of Fury, the fictional Chen Zhen has since been regularly called upon to kick Japanese butt in a range of historical contexts. Various actors have played the part, including Jet Li (1994's Fist of Legend) and Donnie Yen (the popular 1995 TV series Fist of Fury), who reprises the role here under very different circumstances as a masked avenger and protector of the post-WWI Chinese resistance."

Daniel Kasman here in The Daily Notebook: "It's phantom cinema, haunted by the past — cinema and history — and you can pass your hand right through it." More from Natasha Senjanovic (THR) and Kim Voynar (Movie City News). IFC.com's Stephen Saito talks with Lau.

"It's difficult to write about Bruce McDonald's latest film, if only because I feel like I'm examining someone else's very personal correspondence," begins Todd Brown at Twitch. "Co-star Tracy Wright, a truly bright light of Canadian theatre, television, and film, died this summer of cancer. She was only 50. Trigger, rushed into production as her health declined, is really a love letter to her from many of the people who held her dear. Her performance is her letter back: to her husband; to her friends; to her professional community; perhaps most of all to her art."

Wright stars with Molly Parker "as the two main members of the defunct rock band of the same name, who broke up a decade ago under the influence of alcohol, drug abuse, and a mutual distrust." Noel Murray at the AV Club: "I wish Daniel MacIvor's screenplay were a little smarter and specific about the rock scene (the way director Bruce MacDonald's punk-mockumentary classic Hard Core Logo was), and I wish Trigger's dialogue didn't descend so often into generic arguments and recovery-speak. But boy howdy are Wright and Parker ever good in this movie, especially as framed by McDonald against the twinkly lights of their hometown."

More from Kirk Honeycutt (THR), Peter Knegt (indieWIRE) and Stephen Saito (IFC).

Everything Must Go "was adapted by writer-director Dan Rush from a Raymond Carver short story, and it's very much that kind of movie," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir: "quiet, acutely observed, based in everyday events and ordinary moments rather than big, Hollywood-style 'reveals.' It does, however, have a pretty big Hollywood star, with Will Ferrell taking one of his few non-comedy roles as Nick Porter, an alcoholic sales executive who bottoms out in abrupt and spectacular fashion."

"There are dozens of ways that writer-director Dan Rush could've approached this story, but the way he chooses — turning it into a occasionally wry, ever-earnest dramedy — is precisely the wrong one," argues Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Nearly everything about the movie is standard-issue indie, from the plunky soundtrack to the procession of quirky and/or achingly sensitive supporting characters.... I understand that someone like Ferrell will want to challenge himself occasionally by taking on dramatic roles, but honestly? Everything Must Go would've been a much better movie if it had been closer to Talladega Nights than Sunshine Cleaning."

For IFC.com's Stephen Saito, this is "a 95-minute opportunity wasted." More from Alex Billington (FirstShowing), Todd Brown (Twitch), Peter Debruge (Variety) and Betsy Sharkey (LAT).

"I love that John Sayles is still out there, plugging away at dense, multi-character/multi-perspective sociopolitical history-films that play like big-screen novels," writes Noel Murray, easing his way into a thumbs-down review of Amigo at the AV Club. "I just wish he were as good at turning these stories into compelling drama as he was during that stellar 90s run when nearly every new Sayles film was the event of the indie season."

"Whatever his faults as a filmmaker, John Sayles has always showcased a keen interest in people's faces, voices, and relationships to their cultures and environments," writes Fernando F Croce at the House Next Door. "All of these elements are shockingly absent in this cardboard historical account of the Philippine-American War, a chunk of Yankee-go-home proselytizing that's easily his most inert film."

"It's likely deliberate that the characters are archetypes and the storyline is almost entirely predictable, since the repetitiveness of history is clearly Sayles's underlying theme," suggests Joe Leydon in Variety. "But good intentions can't breathe fresh life into cliches or dispel the overall impression of schematic didacticism." More from Ray Bennett (THR).

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Kim Ji-woonAnna BodenRyan FleckNigel ColeJohn CurranStephen FrearsIncertiAndrew LauJohn SaylesTIFFTIFF 2010DailyBruce McDonaldMitch GlazerRichard AyoadeDan RushNewsFestival Coverage
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