Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Toronto: Day Four

North Country
(US, Niki Caro, 123 min. With: Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins, Sean Bean, Woody Harrelson, Sissy Spacek)

We’ve certainly been here before – it’s Norma Rae meets Silkwood, with a dash of Erin Brockovich, as Theron leads fellow maltreated steel workers in a sexual-harassment class action. Compassionately done, Charlize is strong, and arthritic martyr McDormand steals supporting honours from a wheelchair. Caro is good again on community politics and entrenched male privilege. Sure, there’s no urgent reason for it to exist, but it works: it gets you very angry, eliciting a more visceral indignation than any judicial verdict can hope to assuage.

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (UK, Michael Winterbottom, 91 min. With: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Shirley Henderson, Elizabeth Berrington, Dylan Moran, Gillian Anderson)

Starting like a scene from Ricky Gervais's Extras with the magnificent Brydon angling for top billing ("It's a co-lead!"), this announces itself straight off as a fairly shapeless postmodern doodle, more para than meta, like one of those DVDs where the outtakes are more fun than the actual feature. So the film-within-the-film (Tristram Shandy, or highlights thereof) is deliberately underwhelming, and it says a lot that the single best bit is the end-credits sequence with Coogan and Brydon swapping Pacino impressions. Certainly Winterbottom's most enjoyable movie since 24 Hour Party People, but there's a distinct risk of Full Frontal smugness as it goes along, and it often finds itself reprising 24HPP's comic tone wholesale. (There's even a Tony Wilson cameo.) I'll need to, well, read Tristram Shandy before crediting Winterbottom with crafty thematic parallels in the off-camera bits, but that's probably the idea. As it was I spent most of my time scribbling down some choice context-specific one-liners: "There's a shoe issue"; "I'm a medieval craftsman with a Porsche"; "The pockets can be both technically accurate and still look contrived". The same could be said for this kind of cinematic horseplay. B

Bee Season (US, Scott McGehee, David Siegel, 104 min. With: Richard Gere, Juliette Binoche, Flora Cross, Max Minghella, Kate Bosworth)

McGehee and Siegel made the promising
Suture and the vaguely frustrating The Deep End. Their decline into airily overconceptualised artplex guff continues. Family means not having to dot all the "i"s? You're so much better off with Spellbound. The mystical overlay with Cross getting letter clues from CGI'd origami birds paints the movie into a daft corner, and the subplot with aloof mum Binoche randomly breaking into people's houses like the guy from 3-Iron is pure padding. Marvellous if completely detachable opening credits sequence, but overall it's the kind of movie trade papers call "intelligent" and "upscale" because they can't think of anything better to say. C

Vers le sud
(France/Canada, Laurent Cantet, 105 min. With: Charlotte Rampling, Karen Young, Ménothy Cesar)

Female sex tourists in Haiti? An odd shift for Cantet after the wonderful L'emploi du temps; it feels more like Claire Denis territory (shades of her Chocolat), but without the sticky sense of lust. The approach - typified by faux-interview monologues for four significant characters, though curiously not for chief stud Cesar - is more than a shade novelettish and overstated, and when the dialogue switches to English you hear the clunk. But it's subtly sexy, refreshingly nonjudgemental, and ends splendidly. A slight disappointment, for sure, but we can live with pretty good. B(

Dave Chappelle's Block Party
(US, Michel Gondry, 100 min. With: Dave Chappelle, Erykah Badu, Mos Def, Kanye West, Lauryn Hill et al)

Was heading bedwards when I saw punters queueing for this and suddenly remembered there was a Michel Gondry film in the festival, and that it hadn't been press-screened. Needless to say, I hung around, and a couple of very kind Aussie distrib people managed to smuggle me in. The biggest audience-pleaser I've seen, it's a riot, and I speak as someone who normally can't stand concert films. Or Dave Chappelle. To be fair I've only ever seen the man peddling his schtick in stuff like The Nutty Professor and Undercover Brother before. But I hereby declare him a huggable comic genius. Just not to his face. The intercut stuff with him inviting randoms to the bash by megaphone is unbelievably funny. A lot of the music I can take or leave, to be honest, but any film featuring a mesmeric Lauryn Hill recital of "Killing Me Softly", of all songs, has got to be doing something joyously right. B+

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