I've emerged from the darkness. After catching nearly two dozen films in six days at the Toronto Film International Film Festival, I've finally returned to life as we know it, still buzzing more from the gallons of coffee I ingested than TIFF's cinematic offerings.—-
That's not to say it wasn't a fine festival, but, as usual, logistical issues had a bigger impact than one would hope — I arrived in Toronto later than intended, which threw off my best-case-scenario-crafted screening schedule. And while none of the films I did catch rose to the level of greatness — as is always the hope at an international fest pimping more than 300 titles — Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, Alex Gibney's Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, Danny Boyle's 127 Hours and Mike Mills' Beginners were all strong and/or intriguing in one way or another.
I also caught Vincent Gallo's new one, Promises Written in Water, an interesting yet ultimately slight experiment that brought to mind a meld of Warhol and Cassavetes, as well as Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives — Palme d'Dor winner at Cannes — a curious, elliptical film that doesn't quite live up to — at least upon first viewing — what some are calling a "masterpiece."
Biggest disappointments? There were several, none more unfortunate than John Carpenter's first film in nine years, The Ward, a bland psychological thriller marred by a shocking lack of thrills and an intrusive, heavy-handed score that is clearly desperate to add drama where none exists.
Actually, Dustin Lance Black's — the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Milk — directorial debut might be more of a disappointment: The willfully eccentric What's Wrong with Virginia was a train wreck of clashing tones that couldn't be saved by its talented, seemingly game cast (Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Emma Roberts and Toby Jones, among others).
There's plenty more to say about my 2010 TIFF experience, but I'll that save for my wrap-up piece later this week. Now it's on to the films — a robust collection that features something for everyone — populating the Tristate's traditional movie houses.
ALPHA AND OMEGA — This animated family adventure about a couple of young wolves from opposite sides of the pack’s social order who must team up to return home has all the obvious hallmarks of a Disney television movie from the 1970s. With 3-D effects and voice work from Justin Long and Hayden Panettiere, it hopes to crack into the digital box-office marketplace. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated PG.) Grade: D
THE CONCERT — Twenty-five years after a renowned conductor is fired from his post with the Bolshoi Orchestra for refusing to remove Jewish musicians, he finagles his way back into the spotlight and attempts to gather his old orchestra for a one-time only event in Paris. Directed by Radu Mihaileanu and starring Miou-Miou, Francois Berleand and Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds). (Opens today at Mariemont Theatre.) — tts (Rated PG-13) Not screened for review
DEVIL — From the mind of M. Night Shyamalan comes this spook-fest about five strangers who get stuck on an elevator and must figure out which one of them is the Devil before all hell breaks loose. Shyamalan desperately needs a hit (arguably his last major release was Signs back in 2002, although this summer’s The Last Airbender was a global earner at the box office), but this horror sellout might not lead him from the crossroads to his former crossover heights. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tts (Rated PG-13.) Grade: C
EASY A — Fired Up director Will Gluck crams this Scarlett Letter high school update with a lead in Emma Stone, who's looking to get promoted to the A-list after her memorable work in Superbad. Early word from audiences who got a sneak peek at Toronto appreciated the hip Juno-esque vibe and supporting work from the ever-reliable Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, and Malcolm McDowell. Read full review here. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tts (Rated PG-13.) Grade: B-plus
I'M STILL HERE — By now everyone has seen clips of the Joaquin Phoenix meltdown on David Letterman following the release of Two Lovers, which signaled the “end” of his career as an actor and the start of a new direction into hip hop and rap. Casey Affleck, Phoenix’s brother-in-law, stepped in to document this seemingly inexplicable walk on the wild side that was either an absurdly disastrous flight of fancy or a shrewd media ploy intent on exploiting the social media frenzy. (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — tts (Unrated.) Review coming soon.
LOVE RANCH — Based on real-life exploits of the husband-and-wife team (Joe and Sally Conforte) that opened and operated Nevada's Mustang Ranch (the first legal brothel in the country), Love Ranch holds the seedy promise of a 1970s period piece bubbling over with all the nudity, camp humor and tantalizing danger of a Russ Meyers' movie. Instead, the film plays it so safe that the only thing holding it together is Helen Mirren's flawless performance as Grace Bontempo, the elegant brothel madam with a showboating husband named Charlie (played by a miscast Joe Pesci). (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — Cole Smithey (Rated R.) Grade: C-
THE TOWN — Ben Affleck co-wrote the screenplay, directs and stars in this multi-generational story about crime families in Boston's Charlestown neighborhood. There’s not a weak performance in the entire A-list cast, but Affleck breaks out (finally) as a truly multi-dimensional threat. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tts (Rated R.) Grade: A-