TIFF '12 Diary: Day 2

Sep 11, 2012 at 12:39 am
Due to a ticket snafu last week involving my bank falsely assuming my debit card had been stolen, I actually had no tickets in hand for any of day 2 & 3 of Tiff—only the two biggest days of the fest when most of the major films host their premieres. But each day of the fest, new tickets go on sale at 7:00am for most of that day’s screenings. It’s a bit of a crapshoot, not to mention hellaciously inconvenient, but it’s the only avenue that was available to me. And it’s what I relied on for the two biggest days of the fest.   Today, the movie Gods were smiling on me, and I got tickets to five major premieres. It was probably the luckiest 7:00am ticket cache ever, and that luck was sure to catch up with me. But that doesn’t change the fact that day 2 of Tiff ’12 was one of the more memorable film days of my life, and all five films I saw varied between degrees of good and excellent. Let’s dive right in and I’ll try to keep it brief. Rust and Bone (Click here for the trailer) If I asked you to see a movie about a woman who loses both her legs in an Orca whale accident and the connection she forges with a bare-knuckle street fighter, how enthused would you be? What if I sweetened the pot by telling you it was subtitled? Rust and Bone is a movie that could easily have been slow, difficult, boring, and depressing, but amazingly, it was none of those things. Directed by Jacques Audiard, who’s previous film, the excellent A Prophet, received a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination, Rust and Bone is a moving and uplifting human drama that never bogs the viewer down in it’s somber subject matter. Marion Cotillard stars as the double amputee, and it’s her best performance since her award-winning turn as Edith Piaf in 2007’s La Vie en Rose. While CGI certainly covers some of the heavy lifting, Cotillard does a wonderful job with the material, particularly a scene where she swims for the first time since the accident, and she is clearly only using her upper body to stay afloat. Rust and Bone is a very different work than Audiard’s previous films, far less reliant on plot, but it’s no less compelling a film. The Grade: A-

L to R: Director Audiard, screenwriter Thomas Bidegain, and stars Matthias Schoenaerts & Cotillard

Imogene   Kristen Wiig’s follow-up to her star-making turn in Bridesmaids, Imogene is a different kind of comedy for the actress—less overtly ridiculous and slapstick, more reliant on witty dialogue and characters. Written & directed by Robert Pulcini & Shari Springer Berman, the married couple who previously made 2003’s criminally under-seen American Splendor, have crafted a funny movie about the baggage that can be created by misinterpreting our parents’ strategies in raising us. Wiig stars as Imogene, a talented but struggling playwright who fakes a suicide attempt to get the attention of her boyfriend. Instead, it lands her back home in Jersey in the care of her estranged and slightly crazy mother (played wonderfully by Annette Bening) and her live-in boyfriend “The Bouche,” (a hilarious Matt Dillon), who may or may not be an undercover CIA agent. Writer Michelle Morgan partially based the movie on some of her own experiences, and the performances of Wiig, Bening, Dillon and Glee star Darren Criss  sell the film even in parts where the story grows a little too bizarre for its own good. But it’s never less than entertaining and fun, and Wiig proves again that she can be a leading lady.   The Grade: B

L to R: Director Berman, Wiig, screenwriter Morgan, and Criss

Argo (Click here for the trailer) Two years ago, after seeing The Town at Tiff ’10, I wrote that Ben Affleck was well on his way to becoming one of Hollywood’s best directors. Now, I’m pleased to report that he’s there. Argo is fantastic. The film tells the true story of a now-declassified CIA rescue operation that successfully extracted six American’s from Iran in 1980 by posing them as a Canadian film crew on a location scout to make a schlock sci-fi film. If it sounds ridiculous, it was supposed to. As Bryan Cranston, playing a CIA operations director, puts it in the film, “This is the best bad idea we have. By far.” The cast is uniformly wonderful. In addition to Cranston, who gets several of the best lines, Alan Arkin and John Goodman are great playing the Hollywood executives who help concoct the lie.   Affleck stars as the CIA agent who conceives of the mission and pulls it off, but it’s his directing that’s the real star of the show. It’s not easy to pull off great suspense in any context, but it’s especially difficult when the audience already knows how the story ends. The fact that the stakes and the tension Affleck builds had me actually doubting a conclusion that I knew was coming should tell you how palpable the drama was. And the big emotional payoff isn’t delivered in a sappy way, but feels totally earned and genuine. Argo is by turns funny, suspenseful, moving, entertaining, and life affirming. It’s no secret that traditional Hollywood films have fallen on tough times, and everything seems to either be a 200 million dollar franchise movie or a low-budget indie-dramedy, but with the right script and the right talent, Argo represents the best of what Hollywood is still capable of. The Grade: A

Affleck introducing his Argo cast

  Frances Ha   When writer/director Noah Baumbach made 2010’s Greenberg, he must have found something he liked in co-star Greta Gerwig, because now he’s back with an entire movie tailored for her, and they even co-wrote the screenplay together. Frances Ha, about Gerwig’s titular character’s life in Manhattan, her dating scene, her roommates, and her sis-mance with her best friend plays kind of like an entire season of HBO’s Girls condensed to 86 minutes. And it’s shot in glorious black and white, romanticizing the city in similar ways as Woody Allen’s Manhattan, except Baumbach eschews the Gershwin music in favor of a classic rock soundtrack filled with the Stones, Bowie, and others. Unfortunately, Baumbach is not at his The Squid & the Whale best here, and Frances Ha never quite mines the same emotional depth that he’s capable of, or that Girls is regularly hitting over on HBO. But Frances Ha is still well worth your time for it’s visuals and sense of humor, and Gerwig is a radiant revelation in her first starring role.   The Grade: B

L to R: Director Baumbach, Gerwig, and co-star Mickey Sumner (Sting's daughter)

  Seven Psychopaths (Click here for the trailer) I’m an ardent believer that Pulp Fiction is the best film of the last 20 years and Boondock Saints is the worst film of the last 20 years (and maybe ever). Given that, it’s difficult to figure out what to make of Seven Psychopaths, which manages to straddle the exact middle ground between those two films. Writer/director Martin McDonagh’s follow-up to the secretly wonderful In Bruges, Psychopaths is a twisty, violent comedy about groups of killers at odds with each other over a kidnapped Shih Tzu. Honestly, it’s even more ridiculous than it sounds. The movie is highly stylized, creative, and funny, and the great cast lives up to its billing. But it’s also an incredibly nihilistic film that offers little to think about and no lessons or messages beyond its façade of violent cool. It’s simultaneously both the best and worst of what the post-Tarantino generation has brought to contemporary film culture. And you can’t help but be a little disappointed in McDonagh for following up a complex character piece like In Bruges with something that’s not that. But even still, it’s hard to really dislike a film like this, because it’s just too much fun to watch. Even as some elements fall flat, like a burning monk tie-in that seems to come from nowhere, the cast is consistently up to the challenge of giving the film whatever it needs, and amidst several bigger names, Sam Rockwell absolutely steals the show. Well, besides Bonnie the Shih Tzu, that is.   The Grade: B  

You better believe they brought out the Shih Tzu for the Q & A: Co-star Abbie Cornish with Bonnie

Four psychopaths: (L to R) Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrell, and Christopher Walken

And that concludes one hell of a day that began at 7:00am, and I'm rather impressed with myself for not falling asleep in any of the five movies. Tomorrow: We'll see if my luck repeats itself.

 Daniel Joyaux is a film and pop culture critic living in Ann Arbor. You can read more of his work at thirdmanmovies.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter @thirdmanmovies.