Tuesday, August 26, 2008

TIFF08—SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS

Granted, several of TIFF08's Special Presentations are films opening up in theatrical distribution in the next month or two. A few will be world premiering at the Venice International Film Festival and a few will be featured locally at the Mill Valley Film Festival. That doesn't mean I'm not itchy to catch some of 'em rightaway.

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35 Rhums (35 Shots of Rum)—Claire Denis, France. 35 Rhums explores the working underclass of French society. Lionel, a widower, has raised his daughter Josephine on his own. They lead a quiet, comfortable life together, devoted to one another. Their relationship, however, starts to change when Jo befriends a young man and Lionel entertains the attention of a middle-aged woman. Before long, father and daughter find themselves forced to reconcile the past. TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Adoration—Atom Egoyan, Canada. High school student Simon (Devon Bostick) is caught up in family history, technology and a shocking and explosive lie that intertwines the lives of his uncle (Scott Speedman) and his French teacher (Arsinée Khanjian), while forcing him to reconcile conflicting memories of his deceased parents (Noam Jenkins and Rachel Blanchard). At The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson has gathered the critical response from Cannes08, where Adoration won the Ecumenical Jury Prize: the award given for movies that celebrate spiritual values. At The Hollywood Reporter, Ray Bennett praises the film's intelligence and musicality and says it is "a haunting meditation on the nature of received wisdom and how it can warp individuals, damage families and even threaten society." At First Showing.Net, Marco Cerritos counters that Adoration is "full of great ideas that crash together resulting in a mediocre execution." TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Aide-toi le ciel t'aidera (With a Little Help From Myself)—François Dupeyron (Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran), France. In his latest film, Dupeyron again turns his attention to an underprivileged sector of society, creating a memorable figure of remarkable spirit and tenacity. Sonia (Félicité Wouassi, La Haine), the long-suffering matriarch of the Mousse family, finds her life spiraling out of control on her daughter's wedding day—her eldest son is dabbling with drugs while her husband has gambled away the money for the wedding reception. She is determined, however, that nothing will disrupt this special day. The film's title comes from the French saying, which more accurately translates as: "Help yourself, and heaven will help you." TIFF08 Program Capsule. World Premiere.

Appaloosa—Ed Harris, USA. Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renée Zellweger and Jeremy Irons star in the western Appaloosa, adapted from the Robert B. Parker novel. Set in the Old West territory of New Mexico, Appaloosa revolves around a pair of hired guns (Harris and Mortensen) who come to clean up a dangerous town run by a ruthless, powerful rancher (Irons) and his band of outlaws. While boldly bringing new order to the town, the two fearless lawmen meet a provocative outsider (Zellweger) whose unconventional ways threaten to destroy their decade-old bond. Appaloosa is co-written and directed by Ed Harris. TIFF08 Program Capsule. World Premiere.

Ashes of Time Redux—Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong,China. Wong Kar-wai works his magic in this long-planned "reworking" of his legendary, romantic and one and only martial arts film, previously unreleased in North America. Set in ancient China, Ouyang Feng (Leslie Cheung) is a fallen swordsman who is afraid of love after having his heart broken. But the bounty hunters that work for him, like "Blind Swordsman" (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) and Hung Chi (Jacky Cheung), discover the intangible secret of true love while Ouyang retains his attitude towards his fighters and the precious lessons that they have taught. At The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson gathers the critical response from Cannes08. At Movie Martyr, Jeremy Heilman feels compelled to redux his review from the film's original distribution; but, admits that "[t]rying to pinpoint the changes between the old movie and the new leaves me, like one of Wong's protagonists, uncertain where my imagination has supplanted my memory." Ultimately, he recognizes Ashes of Time Redux as "something of an event", especially for all those who didn't have the chance to see it back in 1994. By and large, it remains "the same rapturous, overwhelming experience." In her Cannes report to Film Comment (July/August 2008, p. 54), Amy Taubin extols: "With its gloriously souped-up digital re-colorization and a new soundtrack with solos by Yo-Yo Ma, what had been the most abstract and difficult to follow of Wong's films is now wildly even more so." TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Un Barrage Contre le Pacifique (The Sea Wall)—Rithy Panh (S21, La Machine de mort Khmère Rouge), France/Cambodia/Belgium. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Marguerite Duras, Rithy Panh has turned to a classic work of French literature to make a film about his native country. The legendary Isabelle Huppert stars as the matriarch of a small land-owning family in 1930s French Indochina (now Cambodia) who try to survive by working on rice fields located dangerously close to the ocean. Driven to fight against both nature and corrupt bureaucrats, she devises an imaginative scheme to build a dam against the sea with the help of the villagers. TIFF08 Program Capsule. World Premiere.

Blindness—Fernando Meirelles, Canada/Brazil/ Japan. A city is ravaged by an epidemic of instant "white blindness". Those first afflicted are quarantined by the authorities in an abandoned mental hospital where the newly created "society of the blind" quickly breaks down. Criminals and the physically powerful prey upon the weak, hording the meager food rations and committing horrific acts. There is however one eyewitness to the nightmare. A woman whose sight is unaffected by the plague follows her afflicted husband to quarantine. There, keeping her sight a secret, she guides seven strangers who have become, in essence, a family. She leads them out of quarantine and onto the ravaged streets of the city, which has seen all vestiges of civilization crumble. Their voyage is fraught with danger, yet their survival and ultimate redemption reflect the tenacity and depth of the human spirit. At The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson has gathered the critical response from Cannes08. "It came as no surprise that Blindness—by the way the first competition film ever to open the Cannes Film Festival; what a choice!—was (almost) unanimously despised," dispatches Markus Keuschnigg to Senses of Cinema. "What might have been a profound and entertaining, even unsettling, meditation on human nature (and culture), as was Children of Men by Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón one year ago, becomes a highly glossy, easy to digest but hard to stand apocalyptic melodrama that backs away from anything that might offend the more sensitive of viewers." In his Cannes report to Film Comment, Kent Jones asks: "Is Blindness naïve or sophisticated? It depends on how you look at it. The constant whitening of the screen, which I was assured was a literal translation of novelist José Saramago's prose, was so aesthetically amorphous that it quickly became monotonous, as did the bizarrely unmoored camera eye—did Meirelles ask the DP to pretend that he was blind?" TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

The Brothers Bloom—Rian Johnson, USA. The Brothers Bloom (Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo) are the best con men in the world, swindling millionaires with complex scenarios of lust and intrigue. Now they've decided to take on one last con—showing a beautiful and eccentric heiress (Rachel Weisz) the time of her life with a romantic adventure that carries them around the world. The Brothers Bloom also features Rinko Kikuchi, Maximilian Schell and Robbie Coltrane. At indieWIRE, Eugene Hernandez details the production backstory. "In the globe-trotting con-artist movie The Brothers Bloom, two lifelong grifters devise double-crosses so fabulously complex that they begin to lose track of where real life ends and the bamboozle begins," writes Logan Hill for the Fall Review issue of New York Magazine and he talks with Rachel Weisz, who "steals the film right out from under the brothers' noses." (Via The Greencine Daily.) Damon Wise interviewed Weisz earlier for Times Online. Ain't It Cool News has set reports. TIFF08 Program Capsule. World Premiere.

The Burning Plain—Guillermo Arriaga, USA. Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger star in Academy Award™-nominee Guillermo Arriaga's directorial debut, a romantic mystery about one woman's emotional journey to uncover the secret of a past love. Theron plays Sylvia, a beautiful restaurant manager whose cool demeanor masks the sexually charged storm within. When a stranger confronts her with her mysterious past, Sylvia is launched into a journey through space and time that inextricably connects her to three disparate characters, all grappling with their own romantic destinies. Basinger stars as the housewife whose affair puts them all on a collision course with the explosive power of forbidden love. Dave Hudson has gathered together the mixed critical response from the Venice International Film Festival for The Greencine Daily, where Ronald Bergan has likewise dispatched his assessment of the competition as stands. Bergan writes: "Nicely photographed by Robert Elswit on the US-Mexican border, it is played rather solemnly on one note by a cast headed by Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger." TIFF08 Program Capsule. TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Che: Part One—Stephen Soderbergh, USA/Spain. On November 26, 1956, Fidel Castro sails to Cuba with eighty rebels. One of those rebels is Ernesto "Che" Guevara, an Argentine doctor who shares a common goal with Fidel Castro—to overthrow the corrupt dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Che proves indispensable as a fighter, and quickly grasps the art of guerrilla warfare. As he throws himself into the struggle, Che is embraced by his comrades and the Cuban people. Che: Part One tracks Che's rise in the Cuban Revolution, from doctor to commander to revolutionary hero. Wikipedia entry. Cannes Film Festival Program Capsule. TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Che: Part Two—Stephen Soderbergh, USA/Spain. After the Cuban Revolution, Che is at the height of his fame and power. Then he disappears, re-emerging incognito in Bolivia, where he organizes a small group of Cuban comrades and Bolivian recruits to start the great Latin American Revolution. The story of the Bolivian campaign is a tale of tenacity, sacrifice and idealism, and of guerrilla warfare that ultimately fails, bringing Che to his death. Che: Part Two explores how Che remains a symbol of idealism and heroism that lives in the hearts of people around the world. Benicio Del Toro was awarded the Prix d'interpretation masculine (or Best Actor) for his performance. In her Cannes report to Film Comment (July/August 2008, p. 55), Amy Taubin credits that "[m]ost great films contain within themselves multiple and often contradictory metaphors for the process by which they were created." No doubt this accounts for her concern that "given the pressure on Soderbergh to deliver something a bit more commercial (i.e., half as long), who knows whether the most brilliant film of Cannes '08 will be seen again in its current form in America." As it stands in its festival presentation, Che is "dialetically composed of a pair of nearly mirror-opposite films" that "eschews interiority, focusing instead on the processes of guerilla warfare." TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Un Conte de Noël (A Christmas Tale)—Arnaud Desplechin (Rois et Reine), France. A dysfunctional family, torn apart by illness, death and loss, come together for Christmas in the North of France. Exploring the relationships among them, one by one they open up to acceptance, forgiveness and understanding. Winner of a Special Prize at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, Desplechin's Un Conte de Noël stars Catherine Deneuve, Jean-Paul Roussillon, Mathieu Amalric, Anne Consigny, Melvil Poupaud, Emmanuelle Devos and Chiara Mastroianni. Ronald Bergan dispatches to The Greencine Daily, where Dave Hudson gathers the critical response at Cannes08. In his Cannes report to Film Comment, Kent Jones writes that "[s]ophistication and naïveté, confidence and riskiness, the icily clinical and the warmly affectionate" converge in Desplechin's "Shakespearean banquet", which he describes as "a feat of emotional, verbal, visual, and aural cacophony." TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Disgrace—Steve Jacobs, Australia. Professor David Lurie's (John Malkovich) life falls apart after he has an impulsive affair with one of his students. Forced to resign from Cape Town University, he escapes to his daughter's farm in the Eastern Cape. Their relationship is tested when they both become victims of a vicious attack. In order not to lose the love of his daughter, David stands by her as she accepts her tragic circumstances. She continues her life on the farm and their individual disgrace finally settles to an uneasy grace. Adapted from the 1999 novel by South African-born author J. M. Coetzee. TIFF08 Program Capsule. World Premiere.

Easy Virtue—Stephan Elliott (Priscilla, Queen of the Desert), UK/USA. Colin Firth, Jessica Biel, Kristin Scott Thomas and Ben Barnes star in an adaptation by Stephan Elliott of Noel Coward's wickedly witty play. A young Englishman (John Whittaker), falls madly in love with an older woman—Larita is sexy, glamorous and American. They marry impetuously. When they return to John's family home, his mother Veronica has an instant allergic reaction to her new daughter-in-law but Larita finds an unlikely ally in John's father. TIFF08 Program Capsule. World Premiere.

Empty Nest (El Nido Vacio)—Daniel Burman, Argentina/Spain/France/ Italy. Superbly imaginative and entertaining, Empty Nest offers a heartfelt look at the marital tensions between Martha (Cecilia Roth) and Leonardo (Oscar Martinez) as they struggle to maintain a fresh and exciting marriage after their youngest child marries and leaves Buenos Aires. Daniel Burman's sixth feature is laugh-out-loud funny even while nostalgic moments bring tears to the eye. TIFF08 Program Capsule. International Premiere.

Every Little Step—James Stern, Adam Del Deo (…So Goes the Nation; The Year of the Yao), USA. Every Little Step is a theatrical documentary on the making of Broadway's greatest hit and current revival of A Chorus Line. The film culls behind-the-scenes footage of the auditions, rehearsals and performances of the 1975 original and the 2006 Broadway revival—revealing how life imitates art as performers from both productions undergo intense experiences similar to the roles in the show itself. Every Little Step, spotlights the similarities and the differences between the two shows separated by a generation, the enduring popularity of A Chorus Line, and the creative minds behind one of the longest running musicals in Broadway history. TIFF08 Program Capsule. World Premiere.

Faubourg 36—Christophe Barratier (Les Choristes), France. A dazzling musical, Faubourg 36 is set between December 1935 and July 1936 in a working-class neighborhood on the northeastern edge of Paris. The springtime election of a left-wing government brings wild new hopes, yet also sees the rise of extremist ideas. Three unemployed stage workers decide to produce a "hit show "and occupy the music hall where they formally worked. The stage is set for a short-lived but wonderful adventure. TIFF08 Program Capsule.

Flash of Genius—Marc Abraham, USA. Based on the true story of college professor and part-time inventor Robert Kearns' (Greg Kinnear) long battle with the American automobile industry, Flash of Genius tells the tale of one man whose fight to receive recognition for his ingenuity would come at a heavy price. But this determined engineer refused to be silenced, and he took on the corporate titans in a battle that nobody thought he could win. And while paying the toll for refusing to compromise his dignity, this everyday David tried the unthinkable: to bring Goliath to his knees. Flash of Genius also stars Lauren Graham, Dermot Mulroney and Alan Alda. Based on John Seabrook's book and on the flash of genius test for patentability. TIFF08 Program Capsule. Canadian Premiere.

Genova—Michael Winterbottom (Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story), United Kingdom. Seeking a new life after the sudden death of his wife, Joe (Colin Firth) moves his family to the Italian town of Genova, hoping for a fresh start for himself and his two daughters. His eldest daughter Kelly explores the sexy and dangerous underbelly of this mysterious city, leaving the younger Mary in a world of her own. A poignant tale of love and forgiveness, Genova stars Catherine Keener and Hope Davis. Last September Andrew Pulver visited the set for The Guardian. TIFF08 Program Capsule. World Premiere.

Ghost Town—David Koepp, USA. Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) is a man whose people skills leave much to be desired. When Pincus dies unexpectedly, but is miraculously revived after seven minutes, he wakes up to discover that he now has the annoying ability to see ghosts. Even worse, they all want something from him, particularly Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear), who pesters him into breaking up the impending marriage of his widow Gwen (Téa Leoni). Also starring Billy Campbell, Kristen Wiig and Dana Ivey. Mark Follman interviewed Ricky Gervais for Salon. TIFF08 Program Capsule. World Premiere.

Gomorrah—Matteo Garrone, Italy. Power, money and blood—these are the "values" that the residents of the Province of Naples and Caserta have to face every day. They hardly ever have a choice, and are almost always forced to obey the rules of the "system," the Camorra. Only a lucky few can even think of leading a normal life. Five stories are woven together in this violent scenario, set in a cruel and apparently imaginary world, but one that is deeply rooted in reality. Winner of the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival. At The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson gathers the critical response from Cannes08. Christopher Huber reviews the film for Cinema Scope. In his Cannes report to Film Comment, Kent Jones thinks that "[t]he secret power behind this movie … is its excellent ensemble acting—finally, Italian actors have something real to chew on." Far from perfect, he adds it's the first Italian film he's seen in years that makes sense in relation to the dire state of the nation itself. "Gomorrah is just the movie for a country that has installed a true despot in office not once, not twice, but three times." At The New York Times, Elisabetta Povoledo ruminates on what is being called Italian cinema's "neo-neorealism" movement. TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Good—Vicente Amorim (The Middle of the World), United Kingdom/Germany. John Halder (Viggo Mortensen) is a good, decent individual with family problems: a neurotic wife, two demanding children and a mother suffering from senile dementia. A literature professor in the 1930s, Halder explores his personal circumstances in a novel advocating compassionate euthanasia. When the book is unexpectedly enlisted by powerful political figures in support of government propaganda, Halder finds his career rising in an optimistic current of nationalism and prosperity. Seemingly inconsequential decisions lead to choices, which lead to more choices ... with devastating effect. Good also stars Jason Isaacs, Jodie Whittaker, Mark Strong and Gemma Jones. TIFF08 Program Capsule. World Premiere.

Happy-Go-Lucky—Mike Leigh, United Kingdom. Poppy (Sally Hawkins), is an irrepressibly free-spirited school teacher who brings an infectious laugh and an unsinkable sense of optimism to every situation she encounters as a single woman in London. When Poppy's commuter bike is stolen, she enthusiastically signs up for driving lessons with Scott (Eddie Marsan), who turns out to be her polar opposite—a fuming, uptight cynic. As the tension of their weekly lessons builds, Poppy's story takes alternately hilarious and serious turns, becoming a touching, truthful and deeply life-affirming exploration of one of the most mysterious of all human qualities: happiness. Sally Hawkins won the Silver Bear for best actress at the 2008 Berlinale. At The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson monitors the film's reception in Britain. TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Heaven on Earth—Deepa Mehta, Canada. Preity Zinta plays the leading role of Chand, a young Indian Punjabi woman who finds herself in an abusive arranged marriage with an Indo-Canadian man, played by theatre actor Vansh Bhardwaj. TIFF08 Program Capsule. World Premiere.

The Hurt Locker—Kathryn Bigelow (The Weight of Water), USA. Forced to play a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse in the chaos of the current Iraq war, an elite Army bomb squad unit must come together in a city where everyone is a potential enemy and every object could be a deadly bomb. This explosive adventure reveals the daily heroism of these willing daredevils, starring Ralph Fiennes, Guy Pearce, David Morse, Jeremy Renner and Christian Camargo. TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Il Divo—Paolo Sorrentino, Italy/France. Giulio Andreotti (Toni Servillo) has been the alpha and omega of Italian politics. Unreachable and enigmatic, he hides behind a calculated semblance of normality. Seven times prime minister, 25 times minister, he was the man who held the fate of Italy in his hands for over half a century until the disconcerting accusations of involvement with the Mafia. Winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes 2008, Il Divo is an insightful, intensely political film that delves into the hidden character of one of the most powerful figures in the history of Italian politics. At The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson gathers the critical response from Cannes08. In his Cannes report to Film Comment, Richard Peña asserts that Il Divo was "perhaps the happiest surprise" of the festival. "A blistering and continuously inventive portrait of the Übermensch of postwar Italian politics, Giulio Andreotti (vibrantly played by Toni Servillo), Il Divo presents a whirlwind of deal-making, back-stabbing, hypocrisy, and corruption, with Andreotti as the deceptive calm at the center of the storm. Being at the center, in fact, seems to be the object of the game." TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Inju, la bête dans l'ombre (Inju, the Beast in The Shadow)—Barbet Schroeder, France. Barbet Schroeder directs this thriller starring Benoît Magimel (La Pianiste) as Fayard, a successful crime novelist. Invited to Japan for the release of his latest book, he encounters Tamao, a geisha who confides to him that one of her former lovers is threatening to kill her. This former lover may well be Shundei Oe, a novelist known for his extremely violent and disturbing books, and whose work Alex has studied extensively. Agreeing to help Tamao, Alex finds himself pitted against a man bent on vengeance and before long, his business trip becomes a bloody quest in which fiction becomes indistinguishable from reality. Dispatching to The Greencine Daily from the Venice International, Ronald Bergan writes: "Barbet Schroeder's Inju, la bete dans l'ombre [is] about foreigners in an alien land, …Chinese gangsters in Brazil. The Schroeder film begins with an extract from a patently bad Japanese supernatural movie which is then discussed rather seriously by the French writer, an admirer of the reclusive Japanese novelist on which the film was based. Gradually, however, the film develops exactly into the sort of genre thriller it seemed to be taking off." TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Is There Anybody There?—John Crowley, United Kingdom. From the director of Boy A, comes a wise and charming story of an unlikely friendship between a scruffy former magician and a little boy with a morbid streak. Ten year-old Edward (Bill Milner) has become increasingly obsessed with death and the afterlife since his parents turned their house into a retirement home. Edward's is a lonely and peculiar existence—until he meets Clarence (Michael Caine) who introduces him to wonders in the here-and-now. TIFF08 Program Capsule. World Premiere.

It's Not Me, I Swear! (C'est pas moi, je le jure!) Philippe Falardeau (Congorama), Canada. Leon is 10 years old, has lots of problems and an overly fertile imagination. Of course, there is Mom and Dad who are always fighting, and those annoying neighbors who get to spend the summer at the beach. And then, there's Lea, the exasperating girl who's always right about everything. In the summer of '68, when Mom decides to leave everything behind to start a new life in Greece, Leon is prepared to do anything to kill the pain. Destroy the neighbors' house, become a professional liar and even—why not?—fall in love with Lea. Together, they will overcome the pain of growing up when you feel abandoned. TIFF08 Program Capsule.

I've Loved You So Long (Il y a longtemps que je t'aime)—Philippe Claudel, France. Coming off a hugely successful run in France, I've Loved You So Long is written and directed by acclaimed novelist/filmmaker Philippe Claudel. I've Loved You So Long is a film about the strength of women, and their capacity to shine forth, reconstruct themselves and be reborn. It is also a story about secrets, about confinement, and about the isolation we all share. For 15 years, Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas) has had no ties with her family who had rejected her. Although life once violently separated them, her younger sister Léa (Elsa Zylberstein) takes Juliette into her home, which she shares with her husband Luc, her father-in-law, and their two daughters. "The first time we see Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas), she is sitting in a desolate airport café and looks like [a] complete wreck: haggard, ashen, with a thousand yard stare," Jürgen Fauth dispatches from this year's Berlinale. "I've Loved You So Long is worth seeing just to watch Juliette recover from that desperate thousand yard stare." Similar to Fauth, at The Greencine Daily Dave Hudson admits, "I admire Kristin Scott Thomas's slo-mo blossoming from the lowest depths of grief to, well, coping at least. And Elsa Zylberstein is very fine as well. But if you can't see the big revelation coming by, oh, about a third of the way in at the latest, and sense, too, that this big revelation is going to be the big pay-off of the very last scene, then you haven't grown up watching TV." At The Observer, Killian Fox considers Kristin Scott Thomas's "extraordinary" performance "one of the best of her career." TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Kanchivaram—Priyadarshan, India. Vengadam is a born optimist and weaver of saris, but his lowly status means he can never afford the fashions he creates. At the birth of his daughter he pledges to wrap her in the finest silk on the day of her wedding, dismaying his community who believe that, if such a promise is not fulfilled, a curse will follow. Desperate to keep his word, he steals a thread of silk each day, weaving secretly each night. But when his access to the silk is jeopardized, Vengadam must find a way to keep from breaking his promise. TIFF08 Program Capsule. World Premiere.

Last Stop 174 (Ultima Parada 174)—Bruno Barreto, Brazil. Director Bruno Barreto expands on the true event at the centre of José Padilha and Felipe Lacerda's hard-hitting documentary Bus 174 (TIFF03), telling the story of how a child grows up to become a hostage-taker. Young Sandro lives in the slums of Rio de Janeiro where corruption and violence are the norm. Orphaned, alienated and fearing for his life, Sandro falls into a life of crime from which he may find it impossible to escape. TIFF08 Program Capsule. World Premiere.

Management—Stephen Belber, USA. Management is a romantic comedy that chronicles a chance meeting between Mike Cranshaw (Steve Zahn) and Sue Claussen (Jennifer Aniston). When Sue checks into the roadside motel owned by Mike's parents in Arizona, what starts with a bottle of wine "compliments of management" soon evolves into a multi-layered, cross-country journey of two people looking for a sense of purpose. Mike, an aimless dreamer, bets it all on a trip to Sue's workplace in Maryland—only to find that she has no place for him in her carefully ordered life. Buttoned down and obsessed with making a difference in the world, Sue goes back to her yogurt mogul ex-boyfriend Jango (Woody Harrelson), who promises her a chance to head his charity operations. But having found something worth fighting for, Mike pits his hopes against Sue's practicality, and the two embark on a twisted, bumpy, freeing journey to discover that their place in the world just might be together. TIFF08 Program Capsule. World Premiere.

Me and Orson Welles—Richard Linklater (The School of Rock; Before Sunrise), United Kingdom. Zac Efron, Claire Danes, Ben Chaplin and Christian McKay star in this entertaining ode to Orson Welles. Seventeen-year-old Richard Samuels (Efron) spends his days dreaming of the bright lights of Broadway. He gets his big break when he happens upon Orson Welles (McKay) and his fledgling Mercury Theatre company. Richard impresses Welles with an impromptu audition and lands a bit part in the Mercury's forthcoming run of Julius Caesar. With Welles's womanizing taking priority over rehearsals, chaos and calamity mark the production from the start. Before long, opening night has arrived and Richard will discover the terrible secrets of show business. TIFF08 Program Capsule. World Premiere.

Miracle at St. Anna—Spike Lee, USA. From a screenplay written by James McBride, the author of the acclaimed novel of the same name, the film chronicles the story of four black American soldiers who are members of the U.S. Army as part of the all-black 92nd "Buffalo Soldier" Division stationed in Tuscany, Italy, during World War II. They experience the tragedy and triumph of the war as they find themselves trapped behind enemy lines and separated from their unit after one of them risks his life to save an Italian boy. Starring Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso, Omar Benson Miller, Matteo Sciabordi, John Leguizamo and Joseph Gordon Levitt, Miracle at St. Anna explores a deeply inspiring story that transcends national boundaries, race and class to touch the goodness within us all. TIFF08 Program Capsule. World Premiere.

New York, I Love You, USA. Short films from 12 international filmmakers, including Allen Hughes, Shekhar Kapur, Joshua Marston, Mira Nair, Brett Ratner, Fatih Akin, Scarlett Johansson, Ivan Attal, Natalie Portman, Shunji Iwai, Jiang Wen, and Andrei Zvyagintsev are woven together in New York, I Love You, an homage to The Big Apple. Revolving around the theme of encountering love within the different boroughs of New York City, New York, I Love You features performances from Orlando Bloom, Shia LaBeouf, Natalie Portman, Christina Ricci, Julie Christie, Robin Wright Penn, Hayden Christensen, Rachel Bilson, Andy Garcia, Ethan Hawke, Maggie Q, Chris Cooper, Olivia Thirlby, Kevin Bacon, James Caan, Bradley Cooper, Drea de Matteo, John Hurt, Cloris Leachman, Carla Gugina, Goran Visnjic, Ugor Yucel, Carlos Acosta, Eva Amurri, Anton Yelchin, Justin Bartha, Irrfan Khan, Jacinda Barrett, and Taylor Geare. TIFF08 Program Capsule. Work-in-Progress.

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist—Peter Sollett, USA. A comedy about two people thrust together for one hilarious, sleepless night of adventure in a world of mix tapes, late-night living and live, loud music. Nick (Michael Cera) frequents New York's indie rock scene nursing a broken heart and a vague ability to play the bass. Norah (Kat Dennings) is questioning pretty much all of her assumptions about the world. Though they have nothing in common except for their taste in music, their chance encounter leads to an all-night quest to find a legendary band's secret show and ends up becoming the first date in a romance that could change both their lives. TIFF08 Program Capsule. World Premiere.

A Perfect Day (Un Giorno Perfetto)—Ferzan Ozpetek (Saturn In Opposition), Italy. One year after their separation, the violence that defined Emma and Antonio's marriage returns with ferocious consequences. Meanwhile, Antonio's boss, MP Fioravanti, tries frantically to salvage his political career, unaware that he is destroying his personal life by pushing his young wife to desert him, having already alienated his only son. An adaptation of the novel by Melania Mazzucco, A Perfect Day juxtaposes competing stories of disintegration and personal ruin as a group of characters challenge the cards they have been dealt and try to regain control of their lives—even if it means performing an unspeakable act of betrayal against those they love the most. TIFF08 Program Capsule. International Premiere.

Plastic City (Dangkou)—Yu Lik-wai, Brazil/China. In the São Paulo neighborhood of Liberdade—home to one of the world's largest populations of Japanese immigrants—Yuda, a feared Chinese outlaw, and his adopted son Kirin, an impulsive young dreamer, together rule the pirated goods racket in the ultra-liberal Brazilian metropolis. But a conspiracy between politicians and the mafia begins to threaten Yuda's power. Tired of the bloodshed and feeling the weight of his years, Yuda returns to the jungle in a last attempt to put an end to his life as a criminal. Dispatching to The Greencine Daily from the Venice International, Ronald Bergan writes: "Nelson Yu Lik-Wai's Plastic City [is] about foreigners in an alien land, …a French novelist in Japan. Former cinematographer Lik-Wai's Plastic City is grotesquely derivative of every Hong Kong and Taiwanese gangster movie over the last decades with added clichés from Brazilian gang warfare films set in the favelas. It is not only excessively violent but pretentious in that it feigns to making a point about the way greed is ruining the Brazilian rain forest. The best part of the film is a stunning credit sequence. If only it had ended there." TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Religulous—Larry Charles (Borat), USA. Religulous follows political humorist and author Bill Maher (Real Time with Bill Maher, Politically Incorrect) as he travels around the globe interviewing people about God and religion. Known for his astute analytical skills, irreverent wit and commitment to never pulling a punch, Maher brings his characteristic honesty to an unusual spiritual journey. Teaser clips of Religulous were presented as a special Mavericks presentation at TIFF 2007 with Maher and Charles in attendance. J.R. Jones caught it then and reacted at The Chicago Reader that "mercilessness seems to be the project's chief asset." At Variety, Robert Koehler finds it "brilliant." TIFF08 Program Capsule. World Premiere.

RocknRolla—Guy Ritchie, United Kingdom. When a Russian mobster orchestrates a crooked land deal, millions of dollars are up for grabs, and all of London's criminal underworld wants in on the action. Everyone from a dangerous crime lord to a sexy accountant, a corrupt politician and down-on-their-luck petty thieves conspire, collude and collide with one another in an effort to get rich quick. RocknRolla stars Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Thandie Newton, Chris Bridges, Jeremy Piven and Idris Elba. TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Séraphine—Martin Provost, France/Belgium. Based on a true story, Séraphine delves into the relationship between naive painter Séraphine Louis (1864–1942) and art collector Wilhelm Uhde. In a little town north of Paris, Séraphine works as a maid for Madame Duphot, who rents an apartment to German art critic and dealer Wilhelm Uhde, an enthusiastic advocate of modern and primitive artists. In her spare time, Séraphine paints, with anything she can find—wine, mud, a mixture of fruits and flowers. When Wilhelm comes across one of her paintings, he is instantly mesmerized and insists that Séraphine show him the rest of her work. So begins a nurturing relationship that will expose Séraphine's work to the world. But as Séraphine paints her most inspired canvas, the power of her work leads her into the realms of madness. TIFF08 Program Capsule. International Premiere.

Slumdog Millionaire—Danny Boyle (Trainspotting; 28 Days Later), United Kingdom. A story about a kid with nothing, who has everything to lose. Jamal Malik, an 18-year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai, is just one question away from winning a staggering 20 million rupees on India's Who Wants to be A Millionaire? Arrested on suspicion of cheating, he tells the police the amazing tale of his life on the streets, and of the girl he loved and lost. But what is a kid with no interest in money doing on the show? And how does he know all the answers? TIFF08 Program Capsule. World Premiere.

Still Walking (Aruitemo aruitemo)—Hirokazu Kore-eda (After Life; Nobody Knows; Hana), Japan. A son and daughter return to the family home where their parents have lived for decades, bringing their own young families along with them. They have gathered to commemorate the tragic death of the eldest son, who drowned in an accident 15 years earlier. Although the roomy house is as comforting and unchanging as the mother's homemade feast, everyone in the family has changed subtly. This is the story of a dysfunctional family—full of resentments and secrets—which unfolds over the course of a single summer's day. TIFF08 Program Capsule. International Premiere.

Synecdoche, New York—Charlie Kaufman, USA. Worried about the transience of his life, theatre director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) leaves his home behind and sets out to construct a massive artistic enterprise. Gathering an ensemble cast into a warehouse in New York City, he hopes to create a work of brutal honesty. He directs them in a celebration of the mundane, instructing each to live out their constructed lives in a growing mockup of the city outside. The years rapidly fold into each other, and Caden buries himself deeper into his masterpiece but the textured tangle of real and theatrical relationships blurs the line between the world of the play and that of Caden's own deteriorating reality. Synecdoche also stars Jennifer Jason Leigh, Catherine Keener, Dianne Wiest, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Emily Watson and Hope Davis. At The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson gathers the critical response from Cannes08. In his Cannes report to Film Comment (July/August 2008, pp. 59-60), Gavin Smith observed: "Not known for its patience, the by-now-weary press corps was in no mood for a meandering, over-extended comic evocation of solipsism, and responded with apathy if not antipathy. Which is a pity because it's a pretty interesting first directorial effort by an unruly but original talent. …Sprawling, confusing, and marred by strained and turgid passages (particularly in the first half), Kaufman's film nevertheless steadily builds toward a genuinely cathartic ending, carried along by Jon Brion's increasingly mesmerizing score. A melancholy comedy about terminal self-absorption is a hard sell, but this is a film of real ambition and unlike anything else around." Logan Hill interviews Catherine Keener for the Fall Preview issue of New York Magazine. At The Guardian, John Patterson felt like the film's 130-minute length was "a life sentence." At Spout Blog, Brandon Harris interviews special effects supervisor Mark Russell. TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Valentino: The Last Emperor—Matt Tyrnauer, USA. Produced and directed by Matt Tyrnauer, Special Correspondent for Vanity Fair magazine, Valentino: The Last Emperor is an intimate and engaging fly-on-the-wall exploration of the singular world of one of Italy's most famous men. The film documents the colorful and dramatic closing act of Valentino's celebrated career, tells the story of his extraordinary life, and explores the larger themes affecting the fashion business today. At the heart of the film is the unique relationship between Valentino and his business partner and companion of 50 years, Giancarlo Giammetti. Dispatching to Screen Daily from the Venice International, Lee Marshall underscores that "understated love story." TIFF08 Capsule. North American Premiere.

Waltz with Bashir—Ari Folman, Israel/ France/Germany. One night in a bar, an old friend tells director Ari Folman about a recurring nightmare. The two men conclude that there is a connection to their Israeli Army mission in the Lebanon War in the early 1980s. An astonishing and powerful animated feature that journeys into the director's memory in search of some missing pieces. At The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson gathers the critical response from Cannes08. In her Cannes report to Film Comment (July/August 2008, p. 55), Amy Taubin writes: "Guilt/memory/disavowal/responsibility … is handled with admirable control and stunning originality in Ari Folman's hallucinatory nonfiction animation, Waltz with Bashir. Folman probes the psyches of Israeli soldiers, himself among them, who participated in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon during which the Israeli army 'allowed' the Christian Phalangist militias to exterminate the inhabitants of the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. The film ends with unadorned news footage of the camps after the massacre; played over the final moments is the Schubert piano sonata familiar from Bresson's Au hazard Balthazar. Waltz with Bashir earns its use." In the same issue of Film Comment (p. 64), Joumane Chahine concurs the film is "remarkable" but also "maddening" in its "discreet arrogance." "By using animation and framing the film as a personal journey into the subconscious, Folman circumvents the pitfalls of yet another talking-heads-and-news-footage take on the horrors of war and comes up with a visceral, surreal, and truly potent work of art." Chahine adds: "By constructing Waltz with Bashir around the central theme of memory—with its ability to distort, deny, and conceal—rather than historical fact, Folman achieves a distinctive, eerie tenor." Chahine's reservation is that "while the Arabs' treatment of their Palestinian 'brethren' has hardly been exemplary, there's something particularly distasteful … about being lectured on this by Israelis." TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

A Woman in Berlin (Eine Frau in Berlin)—Max Färberböck (Aimée & Jaguar), Germany/Poland. Adapted from the international bestseller based on a true story. In April 1945, the Red Army invades Berlin; among the chaos, a group of women fall victim to rape in a half-destroyed house. One of them is a former journalist and photographer. In desperation, she decides to find an officer who can protect her. A relationship develops with a Russian officer; soon, what began as an act of self-preservation becomes a complicated and forbidden affair. TIFF08 Program Capsule. World Premiere.

The Wrestler—Darren Aronofsky (Requiem For A Dream; The Fountain), USA. Back in the late ‘80s, Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) was a headlining professional wrestler. Now, twenty years later, he ekes out a living performing for handfuls of die-hard wrestling fans in high-school gyms and community centers. Randy lives for the thrill of the show and the adoration of his fans; but when he suffers a heart attack after a match, he is forced into retirement. He begins to evaluate the state of his life but the allure of the spotlight and the passion for his sport threatens to pull him back inside the ring. The Wrestler also stars Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Judah Friedlander and the Necro Butcher. TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love—Chai Vasarhelyi, USA. Senegalese pop sensation Youssou Ndour has spent the last 20 years in the spotlight as a world-renowned musician and the iconic representative "voice of Africa." At the height of his career, Youssou became frustrated by the negative perception of his Muslim faith and composed Egypt, a deeply spiritual album dedicated to a more tolerant view of Islam. The album's brave musical message was wholeheartedly embraced by Western audiences but ignited serious religious controversy in his homeland of Senegal. The film chronicles the difficult journey Youssou must undertake to assume his true calling. TIFF08 Program Capsule.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno—Kevin Smith, USA. Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks star in this bawdy tale of love and friendship from Kevin Smith. Lifelong friends and roommates Zack (Rogen) and Miri (Banks) are facing hard times and a mountain of debt. When the electricity and plumbing get cut off, the two seize upon the idea of making a homegrown porno movie for some quick cash, enlisting the help of their friends. The two vow that having sex will not ruin their friendship; but as everyone starts "doing" everyone, what started out as a friendly business proposition turns into something much more. TIFF08 Program Capsule. World Premiere.

Cross-published on Twitch, where trailers for A Christmas Tale, A Perfect Day, A Woman In Berlin, Adoration, Appaloosa, Ashes of Time Redux, Blindness, The Brothers Bloom, Flash of Genius, Ghost Town, Gomorrah, Good, Happy-Go-Lucky, It's Not Me, I Swear!, I've Loved You So Long, Il Divo, Inju, Kanchivaram, Miracle At St. Anna, New York, I Love You, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Religulous, Rocknrolla, Séraphine, Syndedoche, New York, Waltz With Bashir, Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love, and Zack and Miri Make a Porno are available at the Twitch TIFF Trailer Park.

7 comments:

1minutefilmreview said...

Nice selection of films.

Maya said...

Isn't it? And that's just one program. Now comes the sticky wicket of trying to narrow down the selections from these various programs to a working 30-40 film itinerary and then fitting that into the actual P&I schedule. Yeesh.

Peter Nellhaus said...

Even though it's been a few years since I saw Ashes of Time on DVD, it will be interesting to see the re-edited version more in light of seeing all of Wong's films, than any memory I have of the first version.

Maya said...

Several critics have noted the value of familiarized hindsight in appreciating this earlier effort more fully. I'm looking forward to seeing it for the first time tomorrow at an advance press screening for Toronto-bound press.

Gustavo Fernández said...

I am so jealous, what an amazing line up! Have fun.

Maya said...

I'll do my best. Maybe next year you can join the festivities?

Greg at TOfilmfest said...

Hello Michael! I came across a link to your blog from Crunchy Squirrel... -- great posts you've done on the upcoming Toronto film-fest! 8-)
Please let us know (via email) if we can link
to any film-reviews you post,
at our site, TOfilmfest...
-- thanks!