Saigon. Shit. I'm still only in Saigon.
I kid. I am thrilled to be heading into my second full film festival this month, something I'm not always going to be able to say. These are work, and I have suffered a bit of a physical ding on my way out the door to this one. I'm hobbled, as it were, with a torn Achilles tendon, which makes walking and sitting equally painful, but it very different ways. A real pleasure, that. So I did wake up this morning feeling a little bit like Martin Sheen in that Saigon hotel room, groggy and unsure about much.
And even so, I'm looking forward to eight full days of mayhem here, starting with last night's screening of "Frankenweenie 3D," which I just reviewed for you. I also managed to catch a midnight show, because just like in Toronto, many of Fantastic Fest's most potent pleasures will be hidden at that late hour, and "Here Comes The Devil" was certainly a dark ride to take at the witching hour.
Saigon. Shit. I'm still only in Saigon.
Sometimes, decoding a director's work comes down to one movie in their career, and the case could be made that with "Frankenweenie," Tim Burton has finally created the Rosetta Stone that perfectly encapsulates his preoccupations, his inspirations, and his own peculiar world view. There is biography contained in many of his films, bits and details and a perspective on certain things like suburbia and childhood, and "Frankenweenie" could well turn out to be one of his most essential films in any discussion of who he is as an artist.
John August wrote the script for this new version of the film, but this project sprang from Burton's head and heart. The original version, the live-action short film he made during his first tenure at Disney in the early '80s, was released briefly to theaters attached to the front of "The Black Cauldron," the studio's flawed-but-fascinating foray into fantasy. Along with his other short film, "Vincent," they felt less like auditions for commercial filmmaking and more like art therapy on Disney's dime. The feature version seems to merely expand on the ideas that were already present in the short, but in ways that flesh things out nicely.
All I knew about "Tai Chi Zero" until now is that it sounded like the Coca-Cola company was getting into the diet martial arts business, and that the film was playing both Toronto and Fantastic Fest.
I started my day today by watching the trailer for the film and by opening my inbox to see that we'd been sent an exclusive poster from the film to premiere. Okay, so at that point, watching the trailer becomes a requirement, right? I figure I'm obligated to take a look now.
What was I waiting for?
"Tai Chi Zero" reminds me at first glance of "Kung-Fu Hustle," and considering my almost embarrassing affection for that film, I'd consider that a good thing. It also looks like it's about playing with standard kung-fu movie tropes, and that can be a lot of fun when it's done right.
Toronto may be in the rear view at this point, but this podcast I put together from interviews I conducted at the festival is, in my opinion, a great pleasure. I'm always fairly upfront about how much I enjoy the overall atmosphere of the Midnight Madness screenings at the Ryerson. I'm a firm believer that if you're going to write about the festival, you need to include those films in that time slot in the public venue. That's the point.
When I saw that Chris Mintz-Plasse was working in Toronto, he seemed eager to try out something at the festival during his shooting schedule for "Kick-Ass 2." When I first got to town, I posted that story about the Twitter feed that director Jeff Wadlow was using to reveal images from behind the scenes. He's continued to post an image a day. It's exactly the right amount of tease, and so far, he hasn't even remotely hinted at a spoiler. He's been fairly jovial when discussing paparazzi photo leaks from the set. It's been fun to observe. Chris seemed fairly excited about the film, about the just-revealed casting of Jim Carrey in a key role, and about the evolution of his character from frustrated son to Red Mist to broken-hearted son to super villain. The end of the first film made the biggest promise in regards to where he might be headed, and much of the large supporting cast is used to fill out his own personal team of super villains with a name so filthy, I'm fairly sure I'm not even allowed to print it with a**erisks taken out.
It seems hard to believe that I've got to wrap up my Toronto thoughts for this year by Thursday morning, when I switch gears into Fantastic Fest mode, which I'll be covering for the rest of the month. That means you'll get reviews for "Frankenweenie," "The ABCs Of Death," "Red Dawn," "Paranormal Activity 4," and much, much more. It also means time's up, and if I'm going to offer up thoughts on Toronto, I'll have a few full length reviews, and a few wrap-ups with quick thoughts about everything else I saw.
You'll hear a lot on this week's special podcast about J.T. Petty's film "Hellbenders," and I think it's one of those movies that could easily be oversold to you, but that has a whole lot of charms if you are on its very particular wavelength. It is truly profane, but in a sweet, puppy dog way. There's something so eager to shock about the film that it's sort of endearing instead of genuinely offensive. The premise is a pretty novel high-concept twist on the notion of a team of exorcists, unofficially affiliated with the Catholic Church. Calling themselves the "Augustine Interfaith Order of Hellbound Saints," the excommunicated priests must live in a state of constant sin, their souls always tipped over to the dark side, guaranteeing them a trip to Hell as long as no one gives them Last Rites to absolve them. They do this so that as a last resort, they can invite the demon into their body, then kill themselves so they immediately go to Hell and take the demon along with them. It's the metaphysical version of being a suicide bomber. You're going down, but you're taking your enemy with you.
This past Saturday night, I took my youngest son Allen to a birthday party thrown by one of the regular listeners of our podcast. I've gotten to know the guy a bit on Twitter, and we have a number of mutual friends. The party is now cemented in the memory of Allen as a highlight of his life because Brian, the host, is a collector of old stand-up arcade video games, and he had at least 30 of them turned on and ready to play. We spent the first half-hour or so trying them all out, and Allen played "Burger Time," "Tempest," "Q*Bert," and that great old school "Star Wars" game before he finally settled on his new favorite thing in the world, four player "Gauntlet."
While kids may not know some of the characters from the '80s video games immediately, I have a feeling "Wreck-It Ralph" is going to play to gamers of every age equally well. It seems to have been carefully constructed to not only illustrate the various ways gaming has evolved over the years, but to also work on a story level that doesn't require you to have any direct knowledge of games to understand what it is that Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) wants from his life.
Rupert Wyatt might want to take a breath and rethink things before he officially leaves the director's chair on "Dawn Of The Planet of The Apes."
Wyatt is very talented, no doubt about it. His first film, "The Escapist," is stylish and full of good performances, and he managed to turn "Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes" into an unlikely hit even under enormous pressure from the studio. The Fox development system is hard to navigate even for filmmakers who have made dozens of movies, but for someone like Wyatt, especially on a franchise as overall important to a studio's long-term strategy as the "Apes" series is for Fox.
It's important to remember how many major missteps they made over the years trying to get the series off the ground again. There was Tim Burton's nigh-unwatchable attempt in 2001, and before that, over a decade of revolving-door development with directors like James Cameron and Oliver Stone taking a shot at the material. Considering the way the original film series essentially helped to create the modern movie franchise model, it was pretty much a given that Fox would want to eventually get back into the business of making the movies.
If you had told me before the beginning of this year's Toronto Film Festival that I would prefer Rob Zombie's film to Terrence Malick's film, I would have laughed in your face.
And I would have been wrong.
One thing that is important to remember when looking at ratings on my reviews is that each film exists in a vacuum. The letter grade I give has to do with how well I feel the filmmakers have accomplished their goal with the film. At the end of the year, my top ten favorite list might not be the list of the films that had the highest letter grades for the year because I love flawed films sometimes despite their flaws, and I've seen technically "perfect" movies that didn't do much for me on an emotional basis. So while I think Malick's film is perhaps much more accomplished on a technical level (there's no arguing with the luminous quality of Emmanuel Lubezki's photography), it left me cold in many ways, and that has to count for something. Beyond that, it feels to me like Malick is starting to settle into his style to the point where it's almost becoming a straightjacket for him.
One of the hardest experiences of the Toronto Film Festival for me was an afternoon screening of "The Impossible," a remarkably well-made movie about an English family living in Japan who head to Thailand for the Christmas holidays, where they are caught in a sudden tsunami that is devastating, terrifying, an awesome display of nature's greatest wrath. The family is separated and the majority of the film is made up of their efforts to reunite in the middle of a mind-boggling crisis.
"The Impossible" is by Juan Antonio Bayona, working from a script by Sergio Sanchez, and it is an impressive, muscular production that more than pays off the promise of "The Orphanage." I liked that film, but didn't love it. I admire the way it's made more than the particular details of the story. It's fine. It's solid. Bayona and Sanchez both have aimed higher in their second collaboration, and "The Impossible" is so aggressive about what it's doing that it shook me up. I had a near-physical reaction to some of the film's most difficult imagery, and there's a lot of it. This is not an easy film to digest. I would compare it to "Black Hawk Down" in that there's not a lot of larger dramatic plotting going on in addition to the survival tale. The whole point is to put the audience in danger, to make us feel what these characters feel in a very immersive and physical manner. Survival is the story here, as well as the reunification of the family. It is hard to imagine anyone arguing against the skill on display in the way the film is brought to life.
From the moment we heard the first rumblings of his leaving to the moment the press release confirming it appeared in the inbox was a matter of just over an hour, and now we can confirm that Tom Rothman will be leaving 20th Century Fox at the end of the year.
Jim Gianopulos will serve as Chairman and CEO moving forward, and that ensures a certain degree of continuity, since Gianopulos has been working with Rothman for well over a decade, and he's been part of some of the key decision making in that time. I first met Jim in 1991, and I'm excited to see what happens as he begins to assert more of his own personality. He was one of my regular customers at Dave's Video way back at that point, and he had a huge appetite for big Hollywood entertainment, a great knowledge of the classics, and beyond that, always seemed to be genuinely excited by the business. It should be interesting to see what sort of films he's going to make now that he's at the helm.