Saturday, September 17, 2005

Toronto: Day Seven

Slow Burn
(US, Wayne Beach, 93 min. With: Ray Liotta, LL Cool J, Mekhi Phifer, Jolene Blalock, Taye Diggs, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Bruce McGill)

Sorry, but WTF? Beach seemed like a perfectly nice fellow introducing this wannabe-sultry Montreal-shot policier, but I can’t go easy on its moth-eaten flashback structure and grisly, try-hard dialogue. (Sample line: “A flaw!” whispers Liotta, noticing a scar above Blalock’s nether regions.) It plays like a spoof of The Usual Suspects, and, much as we love him, LL Cool J sure ain’t no Keyser Soze. The last reel is a hellish pile-up of mutually cancelling plot twists – I overheard fellow audience members trying to puzzle it all out as I left, and they had my sympathies. F

Transamerica (US, Duncan Tucker, 100 min. With: Felicity Huffman, Kevin Zegers, Fionnula Flanagan, Graham Greene, Elizabeth Peña)

The fest’s best acting in an otherwise modest movie comes from Huffman, as a pre-op male-to-female transexual bonding on the road with rent boy son Zegers. It’s a bold, and I think brilliant decision to cast a woman; Cillian, Gael et al get congratulated for pulling off drag, but how much trickier to make a transitional state believable and affecting from the opposite direction. There are other good things – Flanagan’s poisonous grandmother is amazingly well played within a very narrow range – but the film is too fundamentally pat and issue-conscious to excite much. B–

Mrs Harris (US, Phyllis Nagy, 94 min. With: Annette Bening, Ben Kingsley, Chloë Sevigny, Mary McDonnell, Philip Baker Hall, Ellen Burstyn, Frances Fisher, Cloris Leachman)

Quite a day for leading ladies. Hell hath no fury like Annette Bening, convincingly ageing 20 years in hands down her best performance ever as Kingsley’s possibly murderous mistress. Nagy’s fascinating and tartly scripted cause célèbre mystery (shades of Reversal of Fortune) is a wee bit clunky technically, but tonally it’s a masterclass. The idea of this woman finding herself stuck, in love, and with no way out gets unexpectedly moving as it goes along, and the mock-doc inserts with various friends and relatives giving their pennies’ worth never descend into arch point-scoring. The real tragedy is that such a tremendous star turn – and really good film – are getting shunted straight to HBO. B+

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
(S. Korea, Park Chan-wook, 111 min. With: Lee Young-ae, Choi Min-sik)

Well, it’s no Oldboy. This one really only has a third act, and it’s a pretty strong one owing a bit to Murder on the Orient Express, but the build-up is disappointingly bitty and humdrum, and Park does rather overdo the ironically deployed classical music. I liked some of the symbolism towards the end. Call this a more messily human, less machine-like narrative than the director’s previous rampages of revenge, but there’s no getting round the fact that it’s less of a tour de force, too. B–

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