Tuesday, September 09, 2008

TIFF Watch 2008 - Every Little Step, Waltz With Bashir, Blindness, The Duchess - Reviews

I was finally getting around to writing my Fall Movie Preview but Low Resolution has a funnier and more comprehensive one for the month September (that pretty much vocalized my entire thoughts... does he have some weird ESP thing?).

AND... I got sidetracked with free tickets to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) thanks to my friend Chris. So instead of previewing the new films, I got to see some of them! I love my life. I love my friends!

So while I had placed The Duchess in my curiosity category, and Blindness in my lost-interest-when-the-Cannes-reviews-came-out category, free tickets sure can change my mind! (And maybe probably helped butter me up for a better than the other reviewers reviews). I also got to see the documentary Every Little Step about the musical A Chorus Line that combines the history of the show about auditioning performers for a musical, while it detailed the auditions for the 2006 Broadway revival. Meta isn't it?

Every Little Step
Directed by James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo

When I finally discovered the musical A Chorus Line in San Francisco during its pre-Broadway tryout, I was blown away by the story of individual dancers auditioning to be on the chorus line in a Broadway show. The movie is a fascinating look at the creation of the show itself, now legendary on its own, when director Michael Bennett took a group of dancers and taped their 12 hour conversation about their lives, their dreams, their fears, and why they wanted to be dancers. These tapes were used as the basis for the show, and now as the main narration in this documentary film of the new auditioning process for the latest revival.

The movie weaves in the history of A Chorus Line with the current auditions (and don't worry, it does not feel like one of those reality TV audition shows) with some great tales of dancers lives, some dramatic and emotional twists and turns, some surprising revelations (since I've seen the show, I knew who "won" and got the parts, but I didn't realize there were some incredibly talented dancers who didn't get it, that I have seen since and fallen in love (most notably Natascha Diaz and Nikki Snelson), and without totally spoiling the movie, there is a So You Think You Can Dance judge/choreographer who auditions and digs themselves in a bit of a grave).

There are interviews with original Cassie, Donna McKechnie, as well as Baayork Lee, the revivals choreographer, as well as the original Connie, the one character that was directly lifted from Baayork's own story from those tapes. In fact, there are so many tales to tell that only a few main stories are told throughout, and my only disappointment is that they didn't touch on a few of my other favorites from the show (I would have liked to have seen auditions for Paul McGill, Brad Anderson, Michael Pasternostro or Natalie Cortez, but most of the ones the film shows lean towards the female roles). Still, you will definitely fall in love with Chryssie Whitehead, Jessica Lee Goldyn, Deidre Goodwin if you hadn't seen the show already.

I still don't know how dancers do it, between the exhausting physicality of the actual job, to actually getting the job, I'm in total awe. And for A Chorus Line, they need to sing and act well too! It's a great musical and this film is a great documentary about the making of the musical that will have you humming its tunes once again.

Grade: A-

Waltz With Bashir
Directed by Ari Folman

Waltz With Bashir is a dreamlike memory account of the director's experience in the war in Lebanon and while the initial premise, though maybe true, seems incredibly contrived to me (director has a vivid war dream, not remembering anything, and thus looks up all his former comrades to reignite his memory of the war), the film is beautifully animated like a graphic novel that helps graphically depict things in a war that are utterly unwatchable.

With a strong musical score, the film sometimes drags as we go from one friend to another always adding cryptic clues to the war, but when those pieces of war imagery are revealed, they are as astounding as they are disturbing and the film has a numbness unconscious quality that tonally reflects his experience with the war itself (one that I truly still don't understand but I guess the filmmaker didn't really "understand" it either).

Directed by Fernando Meirelles
Starring Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Gael Garcia Bernal, Danny Glover, Alice Braga, Yusuke Iseya, Yoshino Kimura, Don McKellar, Maury Chaykin, Sandra Oh
Opens in North America on Sept. 26th 2008

Blindness is a beautifully rendered film about an apocalyptic horror that I never ever want to see again (no pun intended). The film may have received tepid reviews at Cannes, and Toronto critics are still underwhelmed (though apparently the film was re-tooled for Toronto, now minus an apparently annoying narration by Danny Glover) but I was left uncomfortably disturbed and sick to my stomach for most of the movie, yet totally frozen in my seat and full of anger and despair that made the movie both tedious and incredibly effective. Fun times, eh? And yes, I thought the movie was amazing.

I can't see this movie gaining a wide audience and a few people walked out at the same point I would have as well if I believed in walking out. But I don't. I have never walked out of a movie because I believe in seeing it all as a whole before I reserve judgement, and I'm glad I stayed until the end of Blindness. There is a distance the film creates that may turn off critics but I felt there was a definite need to see our own human races at its absolute worst from afar (never have I wanted to shoot the usually beautiful Gael Garcia Bernal so much). Great performances from Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo, who are sometimes irritating and irritatingly real as the one of the married couples sent away to an isolated ward when Ruffalo goes blind after a series of incidents that spreads this mysterious milky white blindness, and it leaves Moore as the sole person left who can see.

Much like Meirelles' breakout film City of God, the viewer is disturbed and shocked at the pains humans can inflict on one another and while I'm not sure why one needs to see the inhumanity, I'm glad I was able to see this film in the end.

Grade: A

The Duchess
Directed by Saul Dibb
United Kingdom
Starring Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Dominic Cooper, Hayley Atwell, Charlotte Rampling
Opens in North America on Sept. 19th 2008

The ever beautiful Keira Knightly is the Duchess of Devonshire, married to Voldemort, Ralph Fiennes as the cold Duke, all while the young and handsome hottie Dominic Cooper hovers around the premises as Charles Grey (yes, of the Earl Grey family), all while the Duke himself has poorly hidden affairs with anything around him with bossoms (I guess Keira is too flat for him?).

The movie is predictably beautiful and gorgeously filmed on amazing locations with the full deck of costumes and opulence one expects from a period piece called The Duchess, but the core of the movie is a swishy soap opera that takes its time and probably could be faster paced and more passionate, yet I was thoroughly entertained by Knightley's knowingness, Fiennes snippy remarks, and Coopers... well, body... er... of work.

Grade: Probably deserves a B or B+ but I was just surprisingly entertained enough for an A-

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