Festival Coverage

Moviehole at Toronto Part 6!

Festival Coverage

Paul Fischer and Melissa Algaze are still in Toronto – and checking out all the latest films!

The Boys are Back

”The Boys Are Back”, a Special Presentation at this year’s festival, marks Director Scott Hicks return to film making in his home, his beloved South Australia.

Joe Warr, is a witty, successful sportswriter (CLIVE OWEN) who, in the wake of his wife’s tragic death, finds himself in a sudden, terrifying state of single parenthood. With chaotic emotions swirling just below the surface, Warr throws himself into the only child-rearing philosophy he thinks has a shot at bringing joy back into their lives: “just say yes.” Raising two boys – a curious six year-old (NICHOLAS MCANULTY) and a rebel teen (GEORGE MACKAY) from a previous marriage — in a household devoid of feminine influence, and with an unabashed lack of rules, life becomes exuberant, instinctual, reckless . . . and on the constant verge of disaster. United by unspoken love, conflicted by fierce feelings and in search of a road forward, the three multi-generational boys of the Warr household, father and sons alike, must each find their own way, however tenuous, to grow up. Their story is not just about the transforming power of a family crisis — but the unavoidable grace of everyday life and love that gets them through.

Themes of loss, the gender divide and joy of parenting are strong in the skilfully drawn script adapted by Allan Cubitt of Simon Carr’s memoirs. Owens’ performance is exceptional, showing us a character that is the most vulnerable of his career. Hicks’ natural direction beautifully captures not only the subtle moments of pain and pleasure in the Warr’s family life, but the stunning colours and textures of the South Australian landscape. It is, in a small way, a love letter to the region. The Boys Are Back has undeniable beauty in its quiet moments and in its scenes of vast panoramas. The rich and gorgeous score of piano and guitar music by Hal Lindes pulls the viewer immediately into the pitch-perfect tone of the film, which is compassionate without being cloying or overly sentimental. [M.A]

Leaves of Grass

Tim Blake Nelson’s first directorial debut since ”The Grey Zone” is the delightfully dark comedy ”Leaves of Grass”, a film that shows a remarkably cinematic maturity and growth. Delivering a richly varied performance is Edward Norton stars as two identical twins, Bill and Brady Kincaid in this darkly comic tale. Bill is an Ivy League classics professor who prides himself on having shed both his southern accent and his southern working-class family. An inspiration to his students, he adopts vital philosophical thought while constructing a deliberate life of self-control. Over a thousand miles away, the equally brilliant and amiable Brady has chosen a life of impulsivness and unpredictability – a life teetering on the brink of danger and crime.
When Bill is forced home to Oklahoma to attend the supposedly dead Brady’s funeral, Bill’s once ordered life is turned upside down. At every turn, Bill tries to resist the wildly successful (and surprisingly sophisticated) marijuana-growing business schemes on which his brother and his pregnant sister-in-law thrive. And when confronted with his bitter relationship with his eccentric mother, Daisy (Susan Sarandon), all Bill can do is wish for a speedy return northeast to his tenure negotiations. Only the free spirited, poetry writing [and reading] local Janet (Keri Russell) seems to make any sense. But when Brady implicates Bill in a doomed plot involving the menacing drug-lord Pug Rothbaum (Richard Dreyfuss), Bill’s life completely unravels, making him realize no rational philosophy can protect him from life’s twists and dangers.

”Leaves of Grass” is first and foremost a brilliantly observant and wry script by Blake Nelson, based in part on his own Oklahoma upbringing. Movies of course begin with the script and usually end the same way, but Blake Nelson has structured a wry, well observed script containing a collage of richly defined characters, but tonally, the script strikes the perfect balance between absurdist black humour and emotional truth. It is a delicate balancing act but one that Blake Nelson pulls off and so with pure eloquence. It is as fortunate that he persuaded the always Brilliant Edward Norton to play this pair of disparate brothers and the film could have fallen down had the right kind of actor been allowed to take these two characters and make them grounded, and funny as hell, and Norton is just extraordinary as either the drug dealing Okie who wants nothing more than to marry his pregnant girlfriend and connect with the twin brother who would rather forget his roots and focus on his more closed up world of academia. Norton manages to be frenetically hilarious and emotionally sensitive playing these two extreme characters, and immerses himself so totally into both, that one soon forgets that the same actor is playing both characters. Blake Nelson also appears as the often crazy sidekick of Brady and is fun to watch, and beautiful Keri Russell is so perfect as the poetic local who changes Bill’s life. Blake Nelson’s work as a director has matured over the years and Leaves of Grass is clearly a work of complex moral issues and a rich tapestry of sharp humour and wonderfully drawn characters. The film is gorgeous to look at, beautifully cinematic as it evokes a part of the country that is full of geographic contradictions. A dazzling entertaining work that explores family and relationships amidst all its contradictions, the film is very commercial and should prove box office gold if picked up by the right studio, such as a Searchlight or Sony Classics. With a star-making comedic tour-de-force performance by Norton at its core, and this wonderfully funny, lyrical script, Leaves of Grass is an unexpected, fresh and deeply human comedy the likes of which are rarely seen. [P.F]

Chloe

Atom Egoyan is often regarded as a director of cerebral, intellectual and complex works, tending more often than not to work very distinctly on the periphery of mainstream cinema. Then along comes the devilishly sexy ”Chloe”, a film that he did not write, and despite flaws in the script, is very much a mainstream, entertaining and straightforward thriller that will divide audiences and critics but may prove to be Egoyan’s most commercially successful film to date. Julianne Moore plays Catherine, a Toronto-based gynaecologist whose husband, David, (Liam Neeson) spends so much time away from home that she begins to suspect he’s sleeping around. On a whim, she hires a sexy high-class hooker Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) to seduce David and test his fidelity, but it turns out that Chloe is sexually manipulative to the point of sexual obsession.

Reminding one of the likes of Single White Female and those kinds of revenge thrillers of the 80s, Chloe is a film that is part film noir with its perfectly alluring femme fatale, and borders on absurdist parody that somehow works due the intelligence of director Egoyan. He is also a cinematic master of manipulation, and has always given the audience films that are more than what they seem, playing games with the viewer as well as narrative and character. Having made films that are often mercilessly dark, Egoyan chose to shott the erotic script by screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson and give it his own spin, while at the same time conforming to traditional narrative structure. Egoyan achieves a film that some may question while others will find irresistible in its use of eroticism, role play and perceptions of character. It really is a film that purists will take far too seriously, when it is clear that the director is having a huge amount of fun, mischievously playing with his characters as well as toying with us, the viewer. Chloe is intensely sexual, a teasing, tantalising wonderfully funny and fascinating study of the nature of obsession, and by casting Mama Mia’s Amanda Seyfried in the title role, perceptions are completely thrown away. Having recently seen her in Jennifer’s Body, it is clear that Seyfried is a versatile movie star in the classic Hollywood tradition. As Chloe, she is bewitching, incredibly sexy yet we see the pain and longing she communicates with very little but a gesture or those incredible eyes. She is wonderful to watch, seductive and compelling. Julianne Moore is superb as the doctor whose insecurities have tragic consequences. Moore has many great moments and her scenes with the indomitable Neeson are superb.

Chloe is a devilishly intoxicating entertainment, beautifully shot in Toronto and succeeds as both a contemporary film noir and delicious parody of the genre, with its mix of eroticism, fantasy and thriller elements that all weave together into this odd mix of escapist entertainment. It may not be remembered as one o Egoyan’s best film, but for my money, it’s his most entertaining, fun works in years and shows what a sense of humour he has about ourselves and the art of cinema. [PF]

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