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TIFF 2010. Vanguard

Let's start this one with Bob Turnbull: "Fearless. Absolutely fearless filmmaking. Sion Sono takes no quarter, doesn't deal with compromises and doesn't hold anything back. He goes by feeling, sets no boundaries and won't second guess himself. His latest film Cold Fish (along with his previous 4-hour epic Love Exposure) feels like an instinctive creation — there's an energy to it that feels like he edited it live in one fell swoop. It picks you up and whips you through the entirety of its 144-minute ride. Even during some of the longer takes and slower sections in this telling of the true story of Japan's most notorious murderer, you can be left breathless."

Plot and prospects, courtesy of Leslie Felperin in Variety: "Yarn about a milquetoast fish store owner who gets sucked into the orbit of a psychotic serial killer and his equally wacko wife is, like most Sono pics, too long. But its gleeful humor and dare-you-to-watch aesthetic will help it rack up kills at specialty fests, and skewer followers on ancillary."

"There are dark movies, there are grim movies, and then there's Cold Fish, one long, unflinching wallow in the muck of human desire," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Sion Sono opens Cold Fish with jittery jump cuts and bursts of noise and color, but then slows the movie down to the pace of a classic noir. Sono is too infatuated with process at times... But for the most part, Cold Fish moves with the inexorable pull of a nightmare."

"[R]eprehensible," declares Michael Sicinski in a dispatch to Cargo. "A 2½ hour cartoon of grisly proportions, the film focuses on rival tropical fish dealers in a mid-sized Japanese town, one a weak-willed nebbish despised by his second wife and teenaged daughter, the other brash, confident, and sexy — a sort of seductive Teorema figure who becomes, naturally, more tormentor than liberator. Ugly and pointless up to the two-hour mark, Cold Fish takes a nosedive when the shlemiel 'becomes a man' via child abuse and marital rape."

 


"Strange is the new normal in Gregg Araki's splashy, squishy screwball gem, which, more than Smiley Face, has the filmmaker finding a balance between the anarchic impulses of his New Queer Cinema earlier efforts and the stirring maturity of Mysterious Skin," writes Fernando F Croce, reviewing Kaboom at the House Next Door. "Fusing the fleshy with the anxious (characters are constantly snapping out of humid reveries only to find ominous figures sneaking up behind them), Araki has fashioned something like the young new decade's own Repo Man." It warrants a B+ from Noel Murray at the AV Club. Earlier, the Cannes roundup.

The "tense thriller" Easy Money is "based on the bestseller by still-practicing criminal defense attorney Jens Lapidus," notes Alissa Simon in Variety. "Set in the violent, multicultural criminal underground of Stockholm, helmer Daniel Espinosa's tautly constructed tale is Sweden's top domestic grosser of the year so far, with production company Tre Vanner greenlighting two sequels; a US remake is in the works from Warner Bros starring Zac Efron."

"The titular adventuress in At Ellen's Age, played by the French actress Jeanne Balibar, travels some... unlikely roads," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "A flight attendant working for a German airline, Ellen begins her journey by fleeing a landed, locked plane, though unlike Steven Slater, she uses the stairs. Suffering from assorted problems (relationship woes, catastrophic illness), she begins to drift, floating into several orgiastic encounters with other flight crew members, then into a vegan commune made up of earnest young animal-rights activists. As she moves Ellen into the world, the director Pia Marais creates an intimate character study that eventually and quite touchingly opens into a larger story about the pathos of our search for purpose." More from Michael Tully (Hammer to Nail). Viewing (2'48"). Rapporto Confidenziale has clips of Marais and Balibar discussing the film in German.

"The cruelty that young teens are capable of and the amoral prurience of Japanese society portrayed in Tetsuya Nakashima's Confessions will deliver a shock to the system of any audience," writes Maggie Lee in the Hollywood Reporter. "Even more electrifying is the punishment meted out by the teacher-protagonist to her students for a callous crime. Cynical, anarchic and impeccably crafted, this revenge thriller with a socially caustic twist on the image of the mater dolorosa offers no respite in tension, no redemption for any character and an ending that is as merciless as it is a satisfying payoff." Daniel Kasman here in The Daily Notebook on this Japanese box office smash: "The whole two-hour film looks and feels like a three-minute Scorsese up-and-coming montage or flashback, a series of insert and tableaux, drama stripped to simplified explosions of emotion, each one telling us rather than showing us the event, the emotion, the point." More from Bob Turnbull.

 

Todd Brown at Twitch: "Atmospheric. Haunting. Subversive. They're words that could be applied to virtually anything in the Adam Wingard canon and they are no less true here with his latest feature, A Horrible Way to Die. But what Wingard has now that has, perhaps, lacked from his earlier work is a story that's truly a story rather than an experiment. If micro budget sensation Pop Skull was Wingard with a mood then A Horrible Way to Die is Wingard with a point. Don't let the trademark atmospherics and languid delivery fool you, this is Wingard with a focus as tight and sharp as any blade wielded by Garrick Turrell (AJ Bowen) as he leaves his trail of corpses scattered across the country." More from Kurt Halfyard (Twitch) and Dennis Harvey (Variety).

"Aggressive, fast-paced Warsaw-set crimer The Christening from Polish helmer Marcin Wrona gives new meaning to the phrase 'to die like a dog,'" writes Alissa Simon in Variety. "Well-crafted and tightly scripted, albeit with mostly unsympathetic characters, jittery camerawork and expletive-filled dialogue — plus gratuitous sex and graphically sadistic torture — the pic seems targeted at a domestic audience of younger males." Todd Brown at Twitch: "When the film works it works in territory familiar to fans of Nicolas Winding Refn and this year's Easy Money, crafting a union of believable characters caught in a cycle of inescapable violence. It's a potent formula, one that yields big rewards when handled properly and for the majority of the time Wrona does just that."

Update, 9/29: "The title suggests something like Alien, and the guerrilla filmmaking style will be inevitably compared to Cloverfield and District 9." John Horn in the Los Angeles Times: "Writer-director-cinematographer Gareth Edwards's Monsters is simultaneously all of those movies and none of them, a hard-to-categorize hybrid. More than anything else, Monsters is a love story: both in how the film's main characters fall for each other as they must travel through an alien-riddled zone, and in the obvious affection Edwards shows for unadorned cinema." Eight Rooks at Twitch: "It's a few steps short of perfect, limited by the practical realities of guerilla filmmaking, character development that doesn't always ring true and one or two effects shots that betray their origins on the director's laptop. Beyond that, it's a wildly entertaining piece of work and one of the most astonishing debut features in years." More from Kurt Halfyard (Twitch).

Coverage of the coverage: Toronto 2010. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow The Daily Notebook on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.

With apologies to Sicinski: all critics that still believe the word “cartoon” (or, for that matter, “videogame” or “comic book”) automatically means something to contemporary readers or points to some stereotypical (and uninformed) notion of negative artistic qualities need to stop poking holes in the air with their noses and seriously start living in the 21st century. Cold Fish sounds great. The best recommendations always come from critics who display their aesthetic limitations by reacting in a strongly negative manner.
Have at it. You deserve exactly what you get.

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