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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Toronto 08 Preview, Pt 2

The 35 other titles I am quite interested in seeing… which makes a total of 59… and a lot of stuff that I will be looking for advice on.
The titles…
American Swing – Another swinging doc… but this time, chronicling the specific ups and downs (and ins and outs) of Plato’s Retreat, a club whose daily existence, I must admit, I still can’t get my brain around.
Beaches of Agnes – Agnes Varda’s autobiodoc. Yeah.
Biggest Chinese Restaurant In the World – A 5000 seat restaurant with 1000 in staff… this has got to be fascinating. (And in China, I guess it’s just “the biggest restaurant in the world.)
Blind Sunflowers – Another Spanish civil War drama, but the cast is compelling enough to get me in the door (Maribel Verdu and Javier Camara).
Dead Girl – Stand By Me meets a naked dead girl that comes back to life. Eeeewwww….
Examined Life – How can this navel gazer skip a doc about Big Time navel gazing?
$5 A Day – Chris Walken goes road tripping again… it must be better than Around The Bend right?
Fear Me Not – Kristian Levring is a talent. The Intended kinda crashed on take-off, but Levring is always reaching for something interesting. Here, he co-writes with Anders Thomas Jensen, who wrote and directed the terrific The Green Butchers, and wrote on terrific films like Mifune, Open Hearts, Brothers, After The Wedding and even The Duchess, which also screens at TIFF.
Food, Inc. – Yeah, Fast Food Nation kinda sucked… hopefully, it will work a lot better as a doc.
Gigantic – I’m taking a flier on this one… not completely sure… but hopeful. Could be a cloying car wreck.
Goodbye Solo – Ramin Bahrani is the young and the building… we have to watch each step and hope for some growth every time. Here, he has another cast of unknowns and a very personal idea.
Happy-Go-Lucky – Mike Leigh in one of his happier efforts. You know it will be compelling and very, very human.
Hunger – The Irish Hunger Strike of 1981. I don’t have a lot of info on the film, but it won the Camera d’Or in Cannes for a work from a first-time director this year. IFC picked it up, but no release date yet.
Hurt Locker – Is this FINALLY the Kathryn Bigalow movie we’ve been waiting for her to make, merging drama and action with al of her skills as a movie visualist? The film is written by Mark Boal, who was the original writing on In The Valley of Elah… a red flag for American studios, which have still not picked up the film.
Is There Anybody There? – John Crowley is among the best international directors whose name is probably not all that familiar to many of you. Intermission and the recently-barely-released Boy A are really good movies. So, give him Michael Caine, Rosemary Harris, and Sylvia Sims, amongst others to populate an old age home and to change the life of a 10 year old boy… and I’m there.
JCVD – You guessed it… Jean-Claude Van Damme IS Jean-Claude Van Damne in a Jean-Claude Van Damne action movie.
Lovely, Still – A romance between Ellen Burstyn and Martin Landau… I’m willing to try it. Hopefully, a true charmer. Could be something special.
Lymelife – The amazingly self-promotional Derick Martini is back at TIFF with a follow-up with, again, all kinds of talent involved and a story that sounds a little hackneyed. We’ll see. But even if it isn’t great, expect to hear a lot from journalists dragged to cocktail parties.
Me and Orson Welles – I am intrigued by Richard Linklater making the film… and scared to death of Zac Efron trying to act. On the other hand, Linklater has gotten some of the best career performances out of good looking, not very good actors. Sounds kinda like An Awfully Big Adventure.
Middle of Nowhere – John Stockwell’s stock rises and falls, but you never really know which way any of the films is going to go… so I continue to be happy to give him the shot each time around. This time, it’s pot selling teens and 20somethings. We’ll see…
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist – Is this Michael Cera/Kat Dennings comedy the Juno of TIFF 08? Sony sure hopes so.
Not Quite Hollywood – A doc about the Aussie genre push of the 70s and 80s and how it influenced then-young Hollywood.
Paris, Not France – I know… but if this doc about the phenom of Paris Hilton has more to say than Ms Hilton herself, it could be truly worth the time.
Real Time – A Slamdance hit, Randy Quaid is the hitman and Jay Baruchel is his target… a real time hour before the fateful moment.
Religulous – Bill Maher and Larry Charles take aim at organized religion in what seems to be an elaborate episode of Penn & Teller’s Showtime series, Bullshit. Hoping it’s great.
Sexykiller – Kind of a perfect double feature with Paris, Not Hilton, this is the story of a fashion model who is also a psychotic killer… but things really get fun when her victims start coming back to life. Hee Hee.
Skin – Anthony Fabian is a UCLA-trained filmmaker doing his first feature, the true story of a dark skinned daughter of white parents in 1955 South Africa. I am a fan of Sophie Okonedo and Sam Neill and Alice Krige as her parents should be interesting.
Sky Crawlers – Oshii anime… sounds truly bizarre and adult… the story of a culture that watches war as a TV sport and the people who fight that war.
Slumdog Millionaire- Didn’t Danny Boyle see Millions? Oh… he MADE Millions. But this one is in India!
Synedoche, NY – Charlie Kaufman at the helm of his own script. The most easily noted piece of inspiration? Casting Emily Watson as Samantha Morton, since so many people can’t really tell them apart. Some big ideas here, but it still comes back to classic Kaufman… why can’t I clear my mind and my heart and allow myself to love? Believe it or not, this one is more complex than any of the other scripts. But if you ignore much of the first act, figuring it out becomes much easier. Follow the metaphors.
Tony Manero – How can you think twice about seeing a Brazilian movie about a guy obsessed with Saturday Night Fever’s Tony Manero? I mean… it could be horrible and the kitsch value is through the roof?
Uncertainty – From The Deep End writer/directors Scott McGehee & David Siegel, two of the hottest young actors – Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Olivia Thirlby – as a couple that gets pregnant… there are two choices of what to do… and the movie follows them through both possibilities.
Wendy & Lucy – I’m trying really hard to get onto the Kelly Reichardt train… really. People LOVE Old Joy so intensely. I was fine with it, but not bit. Maybe this, slightly bigger film with the ever-watchable Michelle Williams at the center (Lucy is her dog), will be the one.
What Doesn’t Kill You (aka Real Men Cry) – Southie battles with a top notch cast (Ruffalo/Hawke/Peet). The cliché fairies are circling, but let’s hope it is above and beyond.
Witch Hunt – 25 years of false sexual abuse charges, with innocent parents going to jail, make this doc about the tragic situation in Bakersfield, CA a must see.

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin