Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Toronto Film Festival '07: Day Five

To read Scott's Day Five, click here.

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Movie Of The Day: Margot At The Wedding (dir. Noah Baumbach):

It's going to be a good world to live in if Noah Baumbach can keep knocking out light-yet-intense, short-story-ish films like The Squid And The Whale and Margot At The Wedding every couple of years. Baumbach's latest doesn't have the immediacy or emotional impact of Squid, which dropped viewers into the middle of a crumbling academic family and let us fend for ourselves. But Margot works a similar combination of off-handed humor and interesting-but-prickly people–none pricklier than the title character, a strong-willed, socially useless writer played by Nicole Kidman. The movie cleaves to the dynamic between Kidman and her son, a teenage effete who's having trouble grappling with his budding sexuality because his mother keeps turning all their conversations back to herself, and between Kidman and her sister Jennifer Jason Leigh, a warm-hearted free-spirit with Margot-like tendencies that she actively works to suppress.

Some elements in Margot aren't integrated into the story all that well, most notably Jack Black, who gives a funny, well-rounded performance as the fiancé of Leigh, yet still comes off too broad and too "movie oaf"-ish for a story this naturalistic. Also, at times Baumbach's rapid fire dialogue–in which people talk past each other and keep referring to things they said minutes ago–feels like a stunt. It's how Woody Allen used to write conversations in his '80s movies, full of hyper-natural smart talk. But because Baumbach's style is reminiscent of dynamic French filmmakers like Louis Malle, Margot At The Wedding has a restless energy that culminates in a nerve-jangling final scene. And Baumbach continues to show an acute understanding of how narcissists need their families to validate their mini-dramas. (A-).

Also Playing:

Joy Division (dir. Grant Gee): It's probably not necessary for fans of Control to see the documentary version of Joy Division's too-short life, but fans of the band should certainly take a look at this oral history of the seminal New Wavers. Personally I prefer the doc, though it needs more performance footage, and it hits the same wall that Control does when it tries to explain how married working class bloke Ian Curtis wrote songs so bleakly, timelessly poetic. The interviewees don't consider the matter much, though when Gee gets the late Tony Wilson to describe the decline of Manchester after the industrial revolution and how punk and new wave helped bring the city back, the implied message is that Curtis' creative impulse destroyed him, much the way industrialization almost choked the city. That's a valuable insight, especially when set to the racing mechanical clank of songs like "She's Lost Control" and "Disorder." What did Morrissey once say about Manchester? "So much to answer for?" (B+)

Paranoid Park (dir. Gus Van Sant): The central music cue for Van Sant's latest atmospheric exercise sneakily establishes a lot of what the movie is about. Borrowing Federico Fellini's mash-up take on Nina Rota's score for Juliet Of The Spirits, Paranoid Park opens with ominous orchestral pulsing, briefly interrupted by frivolous pizzicato before returning to the melancholy. What better way to evoke the life of a teenage boy and his desperate problems? Wasn't that what high school was like for so many, that constant shift between euphoria and the feeling of being in deep, deep trouble? Paranoid Park is perhaps Van Sant's most accessible film since he returned to the art-film circuit, because its people and emotions are the most recognizable and relatable–even when the plot takes a turn toward the lurid. Even the long, loving slow-motion shots of kids on skateboards don't seem too self-indulgent. It's this boy's life again. Up in the air, and then right back down. (A-).

Cleaner (dir. Renny Harlin): Prior to this screening, Scott and I were trying to entice some of our critic friends to join us, saying, "Don't you want to find out what kind of Renny Harlin film is deemed festival-worthy?" Turns out the answer is, "A very boring one." Cleaner starts well, with Sam Jackson playing a crime scene cleaner who returns to the site of one of his jobs only to discover that the lady of the house (Eva Mendes) has no idea that a dead body had been previously left there. Jackson, an ex-cop, keeps digging into the matter himself, even when the investigation unearths unpleasant secrets from his past. In the end it's all pretty standard issue procedural mystery fare, not as good as the majority of what you could find on TV right now. It's not even very Harlin-y. "Who's going to clean you up?" is the closest the movie gets to a funny line, and even that's unintentional. (C-).

Dr. Plonk (dir. Rolf de Heer): The director of the inventive, moving Ten Canoes returns with an even more daring stunt: a black-and-white silent comedy about a mad scientist who travels 100 years into the future (to 2007) to warn people that the end of the world is nigh. It's a clever idea, given a game effort by all concerned, but whenever modern filmmakers try to recreate the crackly magic of silent cinema, they either repeat hoary old gags or come up with pale new ones. In short: Dr. Plonk just isn't that funny. Or maybe too many consecutive nights of too little sleep are catching up with me. Once I started nodding off, after about an hour, I decided to bail, rather than finish up the last 20 minutes and give the movie a middling grade it may not deserve. (W/O).