Monday, April 15, 2024

On The Ground At TIFF: Days 5 & 6

By David Baldwin

The days are starting to blend together. I know I’m writing this in the wee hours of Thursday morning, but I really have no sense of which movie I saw on which of the past three days. I am doing pretty good on not falling asleep during movies (Which may change today), but I am finding my mind drifting off into some other realm of reality all too frequently. And after watching 26 movies in seven days, that is a whole lot of drifting to do.​

​“The Disaster Artist” is pure movie magic, especially if you have an understanding at the very least of Tommy Wiseau’s legendary cult film “The Room”. And while it is the most commercial film James Franco has ever directed, it’s also the best and most watchable directorial effort. The film is a mostly condensed version of Greg Sestero’s tell-all book, playing like a highlight reel of the relationship between Sestero (Dave Franco, not really stretching) and Wiseau (James Franco, delivering a nearly note-perfect accent and spot-on mannerisms). Right from the top, the film is absolutely hysterical and only gets better as the story gets more ridiculous. But it is also rather touching as well, doing its very best to portray Wiseau as the tragic, misunderstood hero in his own story. Franco has not put this kind of effort into a performance since “Spring Breakers”, and it will definitely get noticed. It encourages you to laugh with him, not at him. And while it is nothing short of astounding to see who Franco convinced to do cameos and bit parts, the recreation of famous scenes from “The Room” are even better. I expect this one to be a huge hit and hope it will encourage a whole new generation of filmgoers to experience Wiseau’s cult phenomenon.

“The Shape of Water” is a masterpiece, full stop. It blew me away completely, and I say this as someone who does not worship at the altar of maestro Guillermo del Toro. He has composed an absolutely beautiful film here that is at times funny, thrilling, deeply romantic and sometimes all three at once. The makeup effects (95% practical according to GDT) are spectacular and the set design is magnificent. I know the streets it was filmed on in Toronto, but you would never guess some of them based on how dressed up they are in the film. While the story deviates into some questionable areas (Like all the useless subplots for the very game Richard Jenkins), it thrives when it focuses on the budding relationship between the mute Eliza (A translucent and incredible Sally Hawkins) and the fish/human/creature hybrid played by del Toro regular Doug Jones. Yes, it gets a little icky if you think about it for a bit too long, but the love between the two characters is so emotionally developed that it is hard to not be moved by it. And any movie that lets Michael Shannon be a scenery chewing villain is more than enough reason to immediately seek it out. Expect this one to win the People’s Choice Award at the festival.

“Hostiles” is visually astounding. Very few movies are able to capture the old West like Scott Cooper’s film does. Shot with what I imagine was mainly natural light, this film is truly one to marvel at (Especially when it’s randomly blown up on a full-sized IMAX screen). The performances from Christian Bale and Rosamund Pike are both terrific as well. But the story and minimal action make watching the film about as riveting as watching paint dry. And considering the film is glacially paced, it makes for an increasingly frustrating viewing experience. But the attention to detail in the look, feel and sound of the film is spot-on, so at least you will have something to look at when you’re not clawing your eyes out from boredom. 

“Darkest Hour” is a solidly entertaining and surprisingly amusing British period drama that is well crafted by director Joe Wright. And while the cast is uniformly good, they all stand in the immense shadow cast by Gary Oldman. His portrayal of Winston Churchill is among the best of his career and is an immediate shoe-in for Best Actor (DDL’s performance notwithstanding). He is absolutely magnetic on-screen, commanding every word and sucking the air out of each and every scene. His charisma, his look, his voice, everything is in perfect order. Oldman has been a character actor since the early 1990’s, and this performance stands head over heels above the rest (Well, maybe not his ground shaking work in “The Professional” or “True Romance”). He has been long overdue for some Academy love – one nomination is not nearly enough – so I will be genuinely surprised to see anyone else even attempt to compete.

Sadly the same cannot be said about “Downsizing”, the new film from Alexander Payne. I have long admired the filmmaker, but this film is an absolute trainwreck. The ideas behind making people smaller are interesting – and the process itself leads to a lot of laughs. But everything that comes afterward (And arguably even before that) seems completely pointless and directionless. It feels cobbled together and about halfway through the movie, I forgot what it was even about. Is it a satire on human rights and lack there of? Is it a play on mass consumerism? Is it an allegory about global warming and its inevitability? I was more confused trying to decipher that than I was “Mother!”, and that movie was a complete mind-fuck. Whatever kitschy, happy-go-lucky film that recent trailer suggests it is, is about as far from the truth as possible. At least Hong Chow does her best to make the most of a bad situation. Matt Damon just looks positively awkward and completely out of place.

As for the rest – “Unicorn Store” is a cute and fun directorial debut from Oscar-winner Brie Larson, but everything is surface level and the film feels quirky just for the sake of it; “Don’t Talk to Irene” is a crowd-pleasing Canadian film about an overweight teenager who wants to be a cheerleader – and is the most genuinely fun and entertaining film I have seen on-screen in years; “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – The Story of Jim Carrey & Andy Kaufman with a very special, contractually obligated mention of Tony Clifton” is obnoxiously titled, but very interesting to watch and see scores of behind-the-scenes footage from the making of “Man on the Moon” while also proving Carrey was robbed of an Oscar-nomination that year (It also just sold to Netflix, so you’ll be able to see it for yourself very soon); “Caniba” is an agonizing pseudo-intellectual documentary about a handicapped cannibal told entirely in extreme close-ups and out of focus shots, proving that some artistic licenses are better left unused; “In the Fade”, Germany’s entry for Best Foreign Language film, packs a riveting performance from Diane Kruger but fails to stick the landing; and “Brawl in Cell Block 99” is overly artsy but introduces the world to a potential new action movie icon – Vince Vaughn.

And while I got yelled at by Benedict Cumberbatch’s people for taking pictures of him during the “Unicorn Store” world premiere and almost got kicked in the head by Jim Carrey jumping on chair arms during the “Jim & Andy” Q&A, neither were the most memorable part of the last three days. I rushed the stage door after the Midnight Madness premiere of “The Disaster Artist” to try and get some autographs on my copy of the book. I successfully got James Franco’s but noticed quickly afterward that my backpack had gone missing. In the middle of people screaming for selfies and autographs, someone had lifted my backpack without me nor my group of friends and family noticing. And of course, my backpack contained my camera I had been taking pictures with every day, my prescription sunglasses and my house keys among other things. To say I was furious would be an understatement.

My brother ran off into the night to try and find it immediately. My fiancée ran in another direction, and after handing my book off to get more signatures (Which sadly did not happen), I ran in another direction. Now I may not have made it clear earlier, but “The Disaster Artist” premiered at Midnight, and the Q&A after the film ended around 2:30 in the morning – so we are running around at 3 AM trying to find my bag, in one of the seedier parts of Toronto. It’s not the kind of place you should be running around in during the day, let alone at night, and even less of an area where you should feel comfortable asking strangers if they have seen your backpack. This went on for about an hour, and I had all but given up hope in finding it. Even the police officer I spoke with did not seem too optimistic, especially given I had to fill out an exhaustive police report immediately when I got home or there would never be a record and they would not legally be able to do anything about it.

As dumb luck would have it, I received a phone call just as I was ready to pack it in with my fiancée that my bag had been recovered and was waiting for me at the Ryerson Theatre where we first started. As it turns out, someone had indeed grabbed my bag – but they grabbed it by accident, thinking it was their own bag. They had returned to drop it off, with all of my stuff accounted for, and try to find theirs. And as we would discover all too quickly, someone else had grabbed their bag, stolen everything inside it and then just threw it into the bushes as if it was garbage. So while someone must be looking out for me, they were not looking out for her.

But I did learn a valuable lesson at the very least – do not let my bag out of my sight when I’m not in a theatre, under any circumstance.

Onto my final 2 days!

You can follow David and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @davemabaldwin

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