Walking up a major Toronto street around 11pm the other night after a late dinner, I passed an empty parking lot hemmed by a looming wall of fire. Flames leapt like — well, like some fake conflagration out of a movie set, an artfully sculpted blaze. I saw no bystanders or fire trucks for a good long while before the wah-wah of sirens confirmed that what I was witnessing was not performance art.
The fact is, film festivals make zombies of us all. So you can understand, maybe, why one of my favorite films at this year’s well-mannered Canadian festival of international cinema too-muchness has been a crazy-cool, low-budget, under-the-radar brainy Canadian horror flick called Pontypool, after the provincial town in which it’s set. This is, yes, a zombie movie, complete with infected souls who attack a radio station on a snowstormy Valentine’s Day, and Stephen McHattie as a splendidly cantankerous radio talk show personality who fights back. (The disease is spread person to person through…tainted language!) But coming from the born-to-be-wild Ontario auteur Bruce McDonald (he made The Tracy Fragments in 2007), Pontypool suggests 28 Days Later — written by linguist Noam Chomsky.
The movie is witty, economically gory, and altogether a find, the more so for hiding in plain sight amid attention-grabbing titles with publicists attached. Here’s one: The Brothers Bloom, a picaresque tale of fraternal con men (played by Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody), their funky, nearly silent Japanese sidekick (Babel’s Rinko Kikuchi, pictured, bottom), and a madcap heiress (Rachel Weisz, pictured, top) who disturbs the equanimity of the sibling bond. (Although the brothers grab the title, Weisz and Kikuchi steal the show.) Writer-director Rian Johnson has clearly been influenced by the life’s-a-carnival worldview and art-direction aesthetics of Wes Anderson, and this follow-up to his 2005 debut, Brick, is crowded, and sometimes cluttered with romping interludes for the sake of romping; the movie itself is something of a cheery con, with one or two too many plot fake-outs. But I’m willing to hang on for the detours from such an interesting filmmaker in the process of finding his best, most authentic voice.
After the jump, sneak previews of Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, Michael Winterbottom’s Genova, and more!
Speaking of grabbing attention and charming the birds out of trees, I do love Slumdog Millionaire,Danny Boyle’s winning, spinning, beguiling Dickens-meets-Bollywood sagaset amid the glitter and squalor of rich and poor India: A poor streetkid survives the dizzying streets of Mumbai to become a contestant onIndia’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. The movie featuresromance, gang danger, and a tumult of color and music, and I left witha happy grin and an urge to get the soundtrack album as soon as I can.
I can’t say I’ll be rethinking scenes from Genova, MichaelWinterbottom’s handsome, torpid, ever-so-slightly pandering drama (andtravel brochure) set in the Italian city of the title. Colin Firthplays a college professor who, with his two daughters (one pre-teen,one full teen), moves to Italy for a teaching job following the deathof his wife, the girls’ mother (Hope Davis); Catherine Keener is alongtime American friend and fellow academic colleague abroad who helpsthe family settle in and casts a tentative romantic eye at her old pal,the new widower….Great cast, right? But the story unfolds as a dullprocession of street-by-street perambulations as father and daughterslearn that Life Goes On.
And really, what that grieving family ought to do is go see…A Chorus Line, that enduring Broadway musical about the casting of a Broadway musical. And just as tonic, go see Every Little Step,a thrilling, moving, emotionally rich documentary by James D. Stern andAdam Del Deo about the casting of the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line,i.e., the show about the casting of a Broadway musical. Get it? The docis one of the most successful depictions of the theatrical process I’veseen — and the movie is, in itself, an artful drama of winning, losing,and working one’s butt off for the love of the stage.
Besides, there’s not a zombie among them in the bunch.