Friday, December 19, 2014

Toronto Film Festival, Days 4 and 5: Gemma! Zach! Prostitutes! KIllers! Fine dining and financial ruin!

S&M and bondage, high-class escorts, corporate murder and a couple of comedians rambling around the north of England .... a first look at some of the films that will be making noise through the awards season all the way to the Oscars.

Toronto Film Festival, Days 4 and 5: Gemma! Zach! Prostitutes! KIllers! Fine dining and financial ruin!


Sunday morning, interviews with Stephen Frears and Gemma Arterton, separaretely, for Tamara Drewe. Jolly and rumpled, Frears dryly confesses that he’s never seen a frame of Arterton’s other films (not even her role as Ms. Strawberry Fields in the Bond hitf, Quantum of Solace). He talks about his apprenticeships, way back when, with Karel Reisz (on Morgan!) and with Lindsay Anderson (If….) The just-24 Arterton appears thinner than she does in the pastoral ensemble comedy, lets her black hair dangle over one eye a la Veronica Lake, and talks about her career thus far, what she hopes will happen this next year (a project with Michael Winterbottom, for one) and what she REALLY wants to do: direct theater.

First film of the day: the middle 45 minutes of Julian Schnabel’s aggressively pro-Palestinian Miral. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly director goes overboard with the hand-held camera work, and the dialogue is so didactic and fist-pumpingly expository that the actors are completely sabotaged. Freida Pinto, in the title role as an Israeli Palestinian schoolgirl, looks lovely – even when she’s being brutally beaten by the Israeli police.

Then interview Zach Galifinakis at the Park Hyatt. He’s a cyclist, rides to his standup gigs in New York, and even rode out to Malibu when he was in L.A. for his first meeting with Robert Downey Jr. before the two of them went off and did the Todd Phillips’ road movie Due Date. Talks about playing someone with mental issues, and the fine line of that, as he does in It’s Kind of a Funny Story.

Two very satisfying films follow: Alain Corneau’s Love Crime, a dark, smart murder thriller with Ludivine Sagnier and Kristin Scott Thomas as an ambitious young corporate exec and her equally ruthless boss. Sagnier’s transformation from buttoned-down protégé to wily killer is something to behold. And Alex Gibney’s Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, with the deposed New York governor himself addressing the camera, is fascinating. Not only for its elelements of classic tragedy, but for the convincing case Gibney makes that this was a high-powered political assassination orchestrated by titans of the financial world and the New York legislature -- a cadre of men who LOATHED the so-called “sheriff of Wall Street.” In some ways, too, Client 9 addresses the financial implosion of 2008 with more concision and clarity than Charles Ferguson’s  Great Recession primer, Inside Job.

Monday, first off, is Erol Morris’ merrily bizarre documentary Tabloid, the story of Joyce McKinney, a Southern belle who made headlines in the U.K. in the late 1970s for kidnapping and “raping” her ex-boyfriend, a Mormon missionary. But that’s just the appetizer in this oddball feast, with its private detectives, randy journalists, Korean cloning scientists and S&M and bondage biz. Interviewing Mr. Morris on Tuesday.

Then, the public screening at the Ryerson of Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip (the line is literally around the block), an unexpected delight: the British comedy stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon , as themselves, and driving around the Lake District eating fine food, drinking fine wines, and doing hysterically fine, funny impressions (Michael Caine, Woody Allen, Sean Connery, DeNiro, Pacino, Richard Burton, etc., etc.), and lots of nimble improv. But for all the laughter the film generates (and it’s uproarious), there’s a sweet melancholy to it that makes this more than just a lot of clever riffing. Coogan, Brydon and Winterbottom appear onstage right afterwards to field questions and be showered in compliments.

Then, also at the Ryerson, finally catch up with 127 Hours, Danny Boyle’s deft retelling of the true story of climber Aron Ralston’s and his five-day nightmare trapped in a narrow Utah park ravine, his right arm crushed under a large rock. James Franco stars, and Boyle shows up after the screening for a Q&A. The film is almost impossible to watch at points (half the audience was watching with hands over eyes) but ultimately this is powerful, life-affirming stuff.

Press and industry screening of Robert Redford’s Lincoln assassination story, The Conspirator, with Robin Wright as an accused cohort of John Wilkes Booth, is cancelled, re-set for Tuesday morning. Curses!   

 

Steven Rea Inquirer Movie Columnist and Critic
About this blog

Steven Rea has been an Inquirer movie critic since 1992. He was born in London, raised in New York City, and has lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Iowa City, Iowa. His column, "On Movies," appears Sundays in Arts & Entertainment, his reviews appear in the Weekend section on Fridays, and his blog, On Movies Online, can be found here. He is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.

Steven Rea's previous blog posts can be found here. Read his most recent columns and reviews, here. He is the author of the book “Hollywood Rides a Bike,” and also curates the movie stars and bicycling photo blog, Rides A Bike.

Reach Steven at srea@phillynews.com.

Steven Rea Inquirer Movie Columnist and Critic
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