Saturday, September 10, 2005

Toronto: Day One

Well, day two for the fest, day one for me. Got in Thursday mid-afternoon, collected my badge, and immediately went "What the heck?" on one look at the press and industry screening schedule, which has been compiled by malicious imps. It's clash city. Seem to have missed Deepa Mehta's Water and Shopgirl, but hoping there will be a chance to catch up with those later. I plunged straight in with my Telegraph top hat on:

Mrs Henderson Presents (UK, Stephen Frears, 103 min. With: Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins, Will Young (!), Kelly Reilly, Christopher Guest)

Dench knocks this out of the park as a widowed moneybags who became a vaudeville impresario in wartime London. I'm not normally a fan, but she's a scream here - imperious, catty, slightly filthy - particularly when bargaining with Hoskins's artistic director and Guest's Lord Chamberlain to put nude girls in the show. Martin Sherman's screenplay is sparklingly funny for about half an hour. So it's a great shame Frears lets it all slump into Full Monty miserablism when the Blitz happens. All life's sucked out of the thing - it becomes stage-bound and Being Julia-ish - and the escapism it's preaching isn't ultimately practised. C+

Breakfast on Pluto (Ireland/UK, Neil Jordan, 135 min. With: Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson, Stephen Rea, Brendan Gleeson)

I'd heard dire things, and was prepared to duck out if the worst was true. Which it pretty much was - Jordan's adventures of an Irish transvestite comes shrieking out of the gate with one of the most aggravating first reels I can remember, rattling through chapters from Patrick McCabe's book in a caution-to-the-winds caffeinated frenzy. Smacked mainly of desperation, and Murphy wasn't cutting it for me either, so I scarpered (U) to see...

Winter Passing (US, Adam Rapp, 99 min. With: Zooey Deschanel, Ed Harris, Will Ferrell)

Very pretty, very uneventful distaff Garden State, marginally less annoying, with indie darling du jour Deschanel staring out of windows lots as a self-harming sex junkie popping home to see her brilliant reclusive novelist father. This is Harris, living in the garage and wearing a white fright wig that makes him look like the narrator of Tales from the Crypt. Rapp can write, but boy do we get to hear about it: this is overscripted thin gruel, every scene ending with cued guitar sensitivity seguing into more staring. Ferrell sings! His amusingly solemn perf as Harris's bouncer/caretaker is one of few plusses. C

Capote (US, Bennett Miller, 110 min. With: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr, Bruce Greenwood, Chris Cooper)

I got literally the last seat in the house for this, and it was touch and go until some guy failed to turn up and claim the one being saved for him. I was quickly thanking my lucky stars. Hoffman becomes an instant favourite for Best Actor I'd wager a year's salary on it and there won't have been a more deserving winner since Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas. On an impersonation level the performance is so inspired you just keep laughing the falsetto trilling, the twitching nostrils, a half-laugh that flutters up from deep in his voice but there's a lot more to it than that. And the movie about (Truman) Capote's involvement with the In Cold Blood case, particularly his relationship with Perry Smith (a heartbreaking Collins) is much more than a lead turn, too. Bennett Miller, working from an award-worthy screenplay from, of all people, minor indie actor Dan Futterman (Urbania), probes incisively into Capote's conflicting motives, asking how artistic egotism may have turned him into a vampiric opportunist first and a clear-eyed chronicler of human fallibility second. It's an excitingly cerebral, astutely handled piece of work. And believe me, the Hoffman Oscar lock is just a matter of time. A

Elizabethtown (US, Cameron Crowe, 135 min. With: Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon, Judy Greer, Alec Baldwin, Jessica Biel)

Crikey. I'd heard bad things from Venice, but this is Vanilla Sky II. A moderately entertaining first 15 minutes has shoe designer Bloom spectacularly falling from grace when his new trainer's recalled. But it's such a hyperbolic opening it leaves the movie with precisely nowhere to go, except to our man's very dull Southern birthplace where (yet more Garden State) he rediscovers some folksy home truths. Crowe seems to think he's remaking The Apartment, with Dunst's scarily perky flight attendant a dismal Shirley MacLaine substitute. She makes Bloom look good. Not sure what resemblance this day-glo world of Crowe's, with its overeager mix-tape soundtrack, is really meant to bear to our own, but I'd had enough of the various discrepancies after an hour or so. (D+?) SEEN IN FULL 31/10/05. Somehow gets worse. I think it might actually be one of the most annoying films ever made. F

Brokeback Mountain (US, Ang Lee, 130 min. With: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, Randy Quaid)

It's nearly excellent. Lee and Larry McMurtry have done a tremendous job fleshing out that strenuously terse Annie Proulx novella, but there are moments of overdeliberateness, and the movie sprawls towards the end when it should be summing up. Fears that it would all be a bit airbrushed have proved misplaced: the cowboy sex has a rushed, hungry quality that seemed pretty convincing to me. And it's sexy. Jake is a bit too Jake, but has some nice jaunty moments and gets more touching as it goes along; Heath, as everyone's saying, is the revelation, pulling off his mumbled Marlboro Man delivery with surprising skill and finding a lot more depth and shading in the better-written of the two parts. Williams, as his wretched wife, is invaluable in support, and even Hathaway isn't too bad. Outstanding Judy Becker production design. Lovely Gustavo Santaolalla score. As this inventory of Good Things might suggest, it's all beautifully done, but I still left wanting more. Still, the screen I saw it in was way too small; Rodrigo Prieto's glorious landscape photography definitely deserves a bigger canvas, and the film a second look. B(+)

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