Report from Toronto International Film Festival - Day 1
16th Sep 08
It's great to be back in Toronto for TIFF, reporting for Eat My Brains for a second year; I like the city and I like its film festival - ten days showcasing 312 new movies across all genres, presented with grace and efficiency every step of the way.
Naturally I'm here to focus on the Midnight Madness titles which this year include JCVD, Deadgirl and Martyrs, but there's plenty of other films of interest to see so without further ado let's get started!
Toby Kebbell in RocknRolla
Despite a late night at the Midnight Madness soiree the previous evening, Ian Rattray (FrightFest) and I both got up in time for the 9am screening of RocknRolla. After two duds in the shape of Swept Away and Revolver, RocknRolla is a return to what Guy Ritchie does best - a brash, flash crime caper starring an array of oddball characters all with silly monikers like One Two (Gerard Butler) and Mumbles (Idris Elba).
It's a typically twisty plot that involves money lending, Russian gangsters, a stolen painting and a wayward singer (Tony Kebbell) but Ritchie manages to keep all his plates spinning and pulls the whole thing off effortlessly; right from the eye-catching opening credits RocknRolla is an assured and confident piece of work. Star of the show is Tom Wilkinson as the mob boss who's at the centre of all the action, but the ensemble cast all play their part and the result is, dare I say it, Ritchie's most consistent and satisfying film to date.
After an encouraging start to the day we then met up with fellow festival fiends Ant Timpson (The Incredibly Strange Film Festival), Bruce Fletcher (Dead Channels) and Todd Brown (Twitch) for one of the most anticipated films in the programme - Vinyan. Fabrice du Welz's follow up to Calvaire has one of the best premises that I've seen in a long time and so my expectations were high for this one. It's the story of a grief-stricken couple (played by Emmanuelle Beart and Rufus Sewell) who’ve lost their son in the Asian tsunami. Refusing to accept that he's dead, they undertake a perilous journey to a Burmese island believing that he's been trafficked there after seemingly spotting him on a videotape about orphaned children in the region. It's a journey into the heart of darkness as they have to deal with Thai mercenaries, a tribe of chilling white-faced children and, most of all, their desperately frail relationship.
Du Welz certainly creates some powerful images here and his placing of the camera right into the centre of the action creates plenty of raw drama. There's also a great tracking shot as the couple arrive at an old temple on the island which is quite breathtaking. Unfortunately this can't mask Vinyan's flaws; the dialogue is poor and the handling of the supporting characters (the Phil Spector-ish Thai guide aside) is frustrating and at times simply baffling. The film lurches from scene to scene without rhyme nor reason, especially in the latter half, which totally undermines the building atmosphere and gives the impression that whole chunks were cut from the finished film. It's a shame as Vinyan has the potential to be a great film - but as it stands it's an interesting failure.
Greg Kinnear and Ricky Gervais in Ghost Town
Something a little lighter next as Ant and I went on to investigate Ghost Town from David Koepp, writer of Indy IV. Ricky Gervais plays Bertram Pincus, a grumpy self-centred dentist who momentarily dies during a routine operation. When he recovers he finds - much to his chagrin - that he can see dead people, and they all want his help. Most notably amongst the recently deceased is Frank (Greg Kinnear) who wants Pincus to help split up his wife (Tea Leoni) and her new boyfriend. It's a safe, predictable comedy that plays to Ricky Gervais's strengths and allows him to give a breakout performance in a leading role. Whilst offering up few surprises Ghost Town is nonetheless full of good humour and is a perfectly enjoyable way to spend an afternoon in the cinema.
In The Shadow Of The Naga
A hectic first day continued with In The Shadow Of The Naga, a Thai film from director Phawat Panangkasiri. Billed as a "high concept thriller" mixing drama with karma, it follows three criminals who stash their loot in temple grounds only to find that a new room has been built on the land when they go back to retrieve their haul. On the run from the police they have no alternative but to take shelter in the monastery and get ordained where the monks’ teachings naturally conflict with their desire for their stolen riches.
The story has great potential but sadly nothing quite clicks into place and the drama never really takes hold - although I was later informed that this was a rough cut and so might yet be improved in the editing suite. With a delayed start of forty minutes and another film calling for my attention I regrettably decided to bail out before the end.
Adrien Brody (The Brothers Bloom) in Toronto
A good move as it turned out, as The Brothers Bloom was an unexpected delight. The sophomore flick from Rian Johnson (Brick) arrived on the back of some lukewarm reviews but for me it pushed all the right buttons. Another crime caper (a common theme thus far), this one is more of a screwball comedy and follows the titular brothers (Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody) as they attempt to pull one last con, their mark being a wealthy eccentric played by Rachel Weisz.
A little over-long in its last act, The Brothers Bloom is otherwise a rollicking ride and a witty pastiche of classic con films with an eye for the absurd that Wes Anderson would be proud of - in particular keep an eye out for the one legged cat that propels itself along in a shoe on wheels! Ruffalo and Brody spar well together and Weisz shows some flair for comedy, but it's Rinko Kikuchi (Babel) who steals the show as the brothers' silent accomplice Bang Bang.
Lori, me and Bruce at The Foxes Den
After the screening I went for a drink with Lori from AFI Washington who I'd met as we'd been queueing for the film. Lori immediately spotted her colleague James (from AFI Dallas) in the bar and it turned out that we knew each other via email - and he was already sat drinking with Ian, Ant and Bruce! Small world, huh? A number of us were keen to head over to the Ryerson for the Midnight Madness screening of JCVD but the advance word was that it was totally sold out and there was little chance of getting a ticket on the door, so in the end we abandoned that idea and instead continued to hang out in the bar until eventually Lori, James and myself went off to grab some Japanese food around midnight. A successful opening day!
RocknRolla is now on general release in the UK.
Ghost Town opens in the UK on 24th October.
The Brothers Bloom screens at the London Film Festival on 27th & 28th October.
For more information on TIFF including the Midnight Madness blogs please visit www.tiff08.ca.