Moviehole at Toronto Part 2!

Moviehole’s Paul Fischer and Melissa Algaze report from the Toronto International Film Festival.

Bright Star

New Zealand director Jane Campion has divided audiences and critics for years and one can only imagine that her latest work, ”Bright Star” will have the same effect. The film is set in London 1818 and a secret love affair begins between 23 year-old English poet, John Keats (Ben Whishaw), and the girl next door, Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), an out-spoken student of high fashion. This unlikely pair begin at odds, he thinking her a stylish minx, while she was unimpressed not only by his poetry but also by literature in general.

However, when Fanny heard that Keats was nursing his seriously ill younger brother, her efforts to help touched Keats and when she asked him to teach her about poetry he agreed. The poetry soon became a romantic remedy that worked not only to sort their differences, but also to fuel an impassioned love affair.

When Fanny’s alarmed mother and Keats’ best friend finally awoke to their attachment, the relationship hand an unstoppable momentum. Intensely and helplessly absorbed in each other, the young lovers were swept deeply into powerful new sensations, “I have the feeling as if we’re dissolving,” Keats wrote to her. Together they rode a wave of romantic obsession that only deepened as their troubles mounted.

On a purely cinematic level, Campion’s eye for detail is striking, both in the physical detail of the period and in the film’s exploration of British class. The film is strikingly elegant and lush but the film lacks a narrative rhythm. The pacing is uneven and plodding at times, and only the patient of audience will be compelled by the film’s sheer stagnancy. One of the problems is that Keats and Fanny are terribly underplayed by their actors, resulting in performances that fail to connect on any real emotional level. This is symptomatic of Campion’s work defined by its lush and beautiful imagery often at the expense of emotional resonance. In Bright Star, this is further heightened by the lacklustre work of the central performances that do little justice to their characters emotional growth. Both hold back to such an extent, that contemporary audiences would soon detach from what they go through. Abby Cornish is certainly more effective, looks gorgeous and the camera loves her, but she lacks a certain punch and is never fully convincing, less so than Barnes.

It is hard to know who will see ”Bright Star”, a period film that is humourless and dour, though elegant and wistful. The film is likely to succeed in Britain and Australia, but will find it tough to connect to Americans who have little interest in either British 19th century social mores, or Keats and his doomed love life. But Jane Campion makes films for herself rather than take on commercial considerations, and perhaps that’s what makes her a divisive but fascinating artist.[P.F]

Beautiful Kate

”Beautiful Kate” was one of Australia’s most successful films of late despite a dark and confronting subject matter. In the performance of his career, Ben Mendelsohn stars as a 40 year old writer, Ned Kendall, who is asked to return to the family home in outback Australia by his sister Sally [Rachel Griffiths], to say goodbye to his father [Bryan Brown], who is dying. While at home, Ned starts having memories of his beautiful twin sister and himself when they were children. These memories awaken long-buried secrets from the family’s past. Based on the novel by Newton Thornburg, Rachel Ward’s feature directorial debut is a staggering achievement, a film of extraordinary depth and clarity, a rich multi-textured layer of profoundly delineated characters brought to cinematic life against the harsh, brown hues of a rugged and uncompromising terrain. Ward manages to convey the film’s themes of regret and redemption so beautifully in her casting. Mendelsohn is sublime, delivering a powerful and sensitive performance, his best ih a decade, but it’s Bryan Brown who is a revelation here, raw asnhd magnificent as the once tough and distant father desperately trying to connect with a son and a past he never understood. He is remarkable and it is one of rthose performances, emotionally rich and real, that remains long in the mind of the viewer for hours afterwards. Newcomer Sophie Lowe is a sensational find as the sexually confused titular character.

The rich cinematography of Andrew Commis visually enhance Ward’s narrative fluidity. With strong reviews, one hopes that U.S distribution will beckon and the right team can propel it to awards glory. Beautiful Kate is a hauntingly exquisite work of beauty and emotive resonance, a triumph for its talented director.[P.F]

Up In The Air

A much anticipated Special Presentation at this year’s festival from Jason Reitman, the Oscar® nominated director of “Juno,” is dramatic comedy, “Up in the Air” starring Oscar winner George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, a corporate downsizing expert whose cherished life on the road is threatened just as he is on the cusp of reaching ten million frequent flyer miles and after he’s met the frequent-traveler woman of his dreams.

This extremely witty, sharp and poignant dramatic comedy is more about loyalty and connections than just the kind made from mileage points. It’s an adept exploration of our changing culture which has embraced technology and the speed and conveniences these advances have brought, but may have done so at a cost, a lost connection to what is real.

Clooney’s character has the typical confidence and swagger we have grown accustomed to from his roles, but what’s so surprisingly sweet is the emptiness and vulnerability we witness in addition to his personal growth as Ryan realizes there is much more to life than hitting the 10 million mile mark.

Exploring themes like these could have resulted in a schmaltzy film, but with the adaption of the Walter Kirn novel in the very capable hands of writers Reitman and Sheldon Turner, the script is sharp, clever, and stirring. Reitman’s direction captures the tenor of America’s current social and economic turmoil, infusing it with fun and sex appeal. Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick in supporting performances prove they can go toe-to-toe with Clooney. In all, a beautifully entertaining yet intelligent work from one of Hollywood’s most unique young directors. [MA]

Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel

”Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel” gets its World Premiere as a “Special Presentation at Toronto and is an intimate look at the founder of the Playboy empire: Hugh Hefner. Here, we learn of Hefner’s fierce battles with the government, the religious right and militant feminists as well as the extraordinary life he has lived.
Most fascinating was learning about the development of Playboy as a business. Hefner himself admits he was driven to create Playboy to show that there is beauty everywhere, especially in the girl next door and that sex was a part of life and it was OK for women to enjoy sex. Feminists may have agreed with the concept but not the execution and clashes with militant feminists and the religious right were frequent. Hefner was the ultimate marketer, always searching for ways to expand the brand, including developing the Playboy Clubs and TV programming – he was ahead of his time in many, many ways.

Director Berman, who met Hefner after he saw her film about musician Bix Beiderbecke, digs deeply into this multi-faceted icon with in-depth interviews with Hefner himself and with as many supporters as detractors, including Joan Baez, Tony Bennett, Pat Boone, George Lucas, Mike Wallace, and lesser known people who worked with Hefner to develop Playboy and the Playboy brand into the international conglomerate it is today.
While Berman’s access was unfettered, it felt that (even at over two hours), the film doesn’t delve deeply enough into any one area and lacks soul. Maybe it’s because Hefner as a subject is so dense, that any filmmaker would be hard pressed to create a singular vision of this man. [M.A]

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