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On the Scene at Toronto: Emilio Estevez's 'Bobby' and more

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1553__bobby_lIt’s the last working day of the festival, my kidneys are failing, and there was a moment there, a terrifying moment, when I thought I’d never see a good movie again. I sat through the Netflix-bought mini-doc The Prisoner, or How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair, and found it a serviceable portrait (albeit with a kinda low content-to-artifice ratio) of one Iraqi journalist’s Kafka-esque peristalsis through the occupation’s prison system. (As we all might have guessed, that whole torture thing was just the beginning.) Then I endured three mediocre-to-awful pictures in a row:

Bonneville, a lumpy, half-randy retiree road movie starringJessica Lange, Kathy Bates, and Joan Allen. Hollywood’s hate affairwith aging is on painful display in this “warm,” “wacky” “upliftinggrief picture.” (I’m quoting from the imagined pitch email.)

Amazing Grace is Michael Apted’s square yet perfectly acceptableBBC telefilm about William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd), architect ofslave emancipation within the British Empire. Oh waitit’s not a telefilm? It’s for… theatrical release? Okay, that’s notso acceptable. This has A&E written all over it. It’s small, it’spedantic, it’s got some performances it doesn’t deserve (the alwayssoulful Gruffudd, a loose and elusive Rufus Sewell as abolitionistfirebrand Thomas Clarkson, and Michael Gambon as MP Charles Fox) –’nuff said.

And then there’s Emilio Estevez’s Bobby, or what my editor referred to as It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Assassination.Packed to the gills with celebrities (Lindsay Lohan and ElijahWood, pictured, plus Helen Hunt, Ashton Kutcher, Laurence Fishburne, Freddy Rodriguez, AnthonyHopkins, Demi Moore, and William H. Macy), Bobby appears to have been written after pounding back a stack of West Wing DVDs and chasing it with The Passion of the Christ.The story, such as it is, presents a laughable schematic cross-sectionof American society circa 1968: The terrarium for this menagerie is theAmbassador Hotel on the day of Robert Kennedy’s assassination. Whatensues is gooey, overscored, treacle-streaked religiosity for depressedDemocrats, and a fine argument for stripping celebrities of theirvoting rights. There were times when the sheer, screaming sixth-gradereading level of the dialogue made me wonder if I was watching somesort of covert Republican propaganda film. I’d recommend it fortoddlers, but I worry they might be too advanced for it.

How fortunate, then, that I caught The Fall before the day closed out. It’s a film by Tarsem, the much-maligned (by me, among others) director of The Cell.For the mono-monikered commercial stylist, it’s been six featurelessyears since that Lopez-flavored paintbomb exploded in theaters, andhe’s back in high color — and this time around he brought along somegood storytelling techniques. In a SoCal hospital in the 1920s, aninjured stuntman (Lee Pace) and Alexandria, a 6-year-old Indian fruitpicker (the preternaturally adorable Catinca Untaru), bond in theoddest way imaginable: He tells her ripping tales of adventure inexchange for the morphine pills she steals from the dispensary.Unbeknownst to his innocent young friend, the stuntman’s trying to killhimself — a broken heart is his real affliction. But his hastilyimprovised “epic,” as eagerly consumed by Alexandria, takes on animportance he can’t begin to fathom. The Fall isn’tprecision-tuned as a narrative, but its towering, total-art visuals(the globetrotting cinematography makes you feel like you’vesleepwalked into the pages of National Geographic) are backed by abeating heart. I’ll admit, I got a little rheumy. Then again, afternine days of undiluted film festivity, it doesn’t take much. Hum the Shawshank music and I puddle. One more dispatch later today, people, and I’m out…

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