Having problems with my Internet connection, so forgive me for the lack of photos in the post today. But that aside, I continue being determined to write out reviews for all the films I saw at #TIFF15, and today I bring you a few more short ones. As in previous posts, I have linked to the synopses and details from the TIFF website for each film.
One of my favourites of the festival was this lean, mean and gritty thriller set entirely in the desert. Gael García Bernal is compelling as a Mexican immigrant trying to find his way to freedom, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan is electric as a mad man hellbent on killing anyone trying to illegally enter his country. The film runs a cool 94-minutes, and not a single minute goes wasted. The camera and action is always moving, and the thrills are ridiculously intense. I was on the edge of my seat for a good chunk of the film watching this cat and mouse game play out in increasingly brutal fashion. Everything from the look of the film to Bernal and Morgan’s performances feels genuine and real. Jonás Cuarón initially emulates the style of his father Alfonso here, then he quickly turns it around and creates his own. This is brilliant and wild filmmaking, and I cannot wait to see what he cooks up next.
Gaspar Noé shocks in a totally different way with Love, which has already been gaining notoriety since Cannes for its explicit, unsimulated sex scenes. And yes, there are plenty of graphic sex scenes and fluids captured on-screen (the film opens with a 5-minute unedited mutual masterbation scene), along with a bit of self referential humour. But Love may also be Noé’s most accessible film, as it is a near straight story about love and loss that does not really veer into the head trip visuals of Enter the Void or the depravity of Irreversible. It actually becomes quite emotional and heavy by the time the film ends, mostly due to a daring and soul baring performance from lead Karl Glusman. The visuals are just as amazing as you might imagine, but the substance and depth of the first half seems to be almost entirely missing from the second half. And the 3D is only really used in one particular scene you may have already heard about.
The closing night film of this year’s TIFF is this romantic comedy/action film that is a total blast from beginning to end. The inspired pairing of Anna Kendrick and Sam Rockwell easily elevates the silly material above conventional romantic comedies. The fact that the dialogue is raunchy and the Rockwell plays a hitman may set off warning bells, but thankfully the film never takes itself seriously. Both Kendrick and Rockwell play to their strengths (Rockwell specifically with his almost contractual need to dance in every film he stars in), and make up for how overly complicated and ridiculous the film becomes in its second act. It may not be a great film and could use a stronger climax, but it is a whole lot of fun.
Our Brand Is Crisis
David Gordon Green returns to mainstream filmmaking after a handful of indies to direct this tonally inconsistent crowd-pleaser. While I laughed quite a bit, the film never seems to be able to rectify if it should be a comedy or a drama, even after the film takes a sharp dramatic turn in the third act. And while the supporting cast is not given much to do (beyond scene-stealing turns from Joaquim de Almeida and Billy Bob Thornton), this is very much the Sandra Bullock show who delivers another fantastic performance here. She chews the scenery, she overshadows everyone and she nails every line and every moment. Forget listening to all the commentary on this being a role written for a man — Bullock proves there is no way this movie would have been anywhere near as captivating with anyone else as the lead.
Stephen Frears dramatization of Lance Armstrong’s life is just as fascinating as it is flawed. Unlike other films at the festival, The Program maintains its rapid pacing throughout, rarely stopping to breathe or examine what is happening. But that is also the problem — as the style of the film quickly takes precedent over the substance, and by the time Armstrong finally admits to taking drugs, the movie is over and entirely anticlimactic. Ben Foster commands the screen as Armstrong. He has an intensely determined look on his face from the moment the film begins, and it only gets stronger as it continues. He is the real deal, and this will likely be his genuine breakout. Chris O’Dowd is also of particular note, delivering a very nuanced and genuine performance that seems to be entirely undercut by Foster. And is there any real point of Dustin Hoffman being here at all?