Soulmining at TIFF '09, Day Seven - Micmacs, The Joneses, Up In The Air and Solomon Kane
15th Oct 09
It was only a matter of time before I overslept one morning and Wednesday turns out to be the day in question. Thankfully it’s not too late and I still have enough time to jump in the shower, throw on some clothes and dash to the Varsity in the nick of time for my 9am screening. Phew!
It’s been five years since A Very Long Engagement so I’ve been eagerly anticipating Micmacs, the new film from Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Micmacs à tire-larigot, to give it its full French title, is a slang term that roughly translates as ‘an endless big mess’ or ‘dodgy dealings by the dozen’ which gives you some idea of what’s in store. Bazil (Dany Boon) grew up as an orphan when his soldier father was killed by a landmine. As an adult he’s hit by a stray bullet in a drive-by shooting that lodges in his head, leaving him unemployed and out on the streets. By chance he discovers a group of oddballs who live in a scrapyard, creating new objects out of discarded junk, and is welcomed to join their team. Together they take on the rival arms firms responsible for Bazil’s ill fortune.
Jeunet’s talent here is taking a serious issue (weapons dealing) and finding a way to address the topic within a light, comic framework. It’s a delicate balance but he confidently pulls it off, even managing to throw in a bit of romance too. What’s never in question is the director’s ability to tell his story in such a creative manner, and both the set up and pay off are perfectly crafted here. Echoing his early work, especially Delicatessen, Jeunet again introduces us to a world full of strange inventions and quirky characters, brought to life by a strong ensemble cast including the ever-present Dominique Pinon. However it’s Boon who really impresses in the acting stakes, displaying a real affinity for the material and a great sense of comic timing. It’s an absolute pleasure to watch him on screen and his performance ensures that Micmacs is a joy from start to finish.
Next, catching up with the film that I missed yesterday morning, Derrick Borte’s feature debut makes a timely bow at TIFF 09. A warm, comic family drama, The Joneses also serves as a sombre, telling reminder about the pitfalls of today’s consumer-led lifestyle. The Joneses appear to be the perfect family unit when they arrive at their new home in a wealthy American suburb – there’s Steve (David Duchovny), his wife Kate (Demi Moore) and their beautiful children (Amber Heard, Ben Hollingsworth). With all the latest gadgets and affluent lifestyle everyone likes them, everyone wants to be like them, especially neighbours Larry (Gary Cole) and Summer (Glenn Headly). Yet all is not as it seems, and behind closed doors The Joneses conceal a secret that threatens to tear them, and their neighbours, apart.
A comment on a modern society that lives by the motto ‘he who dies with the most toys wins,’ The Joneses shows the darker side of consumer culture and the consequences, to coin the phrase, of keeping up with The Joneses. It’s an original, fresh piece of work from writer-director Borte who manages to make a serious point while still having fun with the idea. The dynamics are fascinating to watch as more and more is revealed about each family member, anchored by a solid turn from Duchovny and a notable performance from Demi Moore, arguably her best for a decade. Entertaining and thought-provoking, The Joneses is sadly the sort of film that often falls through the cracks, but is definitely worth seeking out given the opportunity.
Up In The Air
Another difficult decision next had me consigning Valhalla Rising to the screening library and in its place seeing Up In The Air on the big screen. The latest film from local hero Jason Reitman (Juno), this was already generating a lot of buzz around the festival with talk of potential Oscar nominations. The second George Clooney vehicle in town (the other being The Men Who Stare At Goats), this one has Clooney playing Ryan Bingham, a consultant who’s hired by companies to handle staff redundancies, a job that keeps him clocking up the air miles as he spends much of his time in business travel. When a new young colleague (Anna Kendrick) joins him ‘on the road’ and he meets fellow frequent flier Alex (Vera Farmiga), Ryan slowly unlocks the emotions that have been suppressed by his solitary existence and begins to reevaluate his life and values.
All these plaudits for Up In The Air have me baffled, for whilst it’s not a bad film, neither is it a classic by any means, and for my money it’s a backwards step from Juno and Thank You For Smoking. Adpated from Walter Kirn’s novel it’s another film with current relevance in today’s uncertain economic climate, but Reitman’s screenplay is bland and soon falls into familiarity and cliché. Also for a film purporting to be about a man finding his emotional core, the film is surprisingly cold and uninviting, it’s hard to find a way into the characters. Clooney of course is a consummate professional and does his best, but for all his natural charm it just doesn’t seem to connect this time. Never too sure whether it wants to be a romantic comedy or a comment on business ethics, Up In The Air falls somewhere in between and ends up satisfying neither.
As I come out of the film I bump into Ian in the foyer and we arrange to meet up for dinner later. I’ve now got several options open to me for the next few hours – screenings of Adrift or Jonathan King’s Under The Mountain, or maybe walking down to Indigo to listen to Nick Cave reading from his new book, The Death Of Bunny Munro. In the end I choose none of these things, I’m simply too tired and instead I head back to my apartment and get a couple of hours kip. I have dinner with Ian at a nearby pub at 7.30pm then catch up with some online stuff, including writing another ‘Postcard from Toronto‘ for the FrightFest website.
Michael J. Bassett
Tonight’s late screening is Solomon Kane from British director Michael J. Bassett (Deathwatch, Wilderness), so I’m down at the Ryerson nice and early as I’m hoping to grab a quick word with him before the film. Taking my place alongside the MM bloggers we take it in turns to interview Bassett and James Purefoy who plays the lead role in the film. Both are eager and enthusiastic and happy to expand about their work on the project. Sitting with Paul inside the cinema I notice that the pair of them are seated directly behind us… I’d better not fall asleep then!
Solomon Kane is a sword-and-sorcery adventure based on the stories of Robert E. Howard, best known as the creator of Conan the Barbarian. Set in the 16th Century, Kane (Purefoy) is a beast of a man, dressed head to toe in black, who roams the land killing men with his blade and pistols and stealing all their wealth. The devil soon gets wind of his exploits and wants his soul, but Kane escapes and quickly realises that he needs to renounce his wicked ways if he’s to survive, so he returns to England and attempts to seek redemption. His faith – and natural urges – are soon put to the test however when demonic forces ravage the land and Kane is forced to take a stand to fight for his country.
Perhaps the most conventional selection in this year’s Midnight Madness programme, Solomon Kane is a traditional adventure story packed with action that harks back to the films of the eighties that I grew up with in my early teens. Whilst the sword-and-sorcery genre is not really my thing – and I’m certainly no expert – this modern take on the material seems to be done reasonably well. Purefoy cuts a commanding figure as Kane and there’s solid support from the likes of Pete Postlethwaite, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Max Von Sydow and Jason Flemyng. My only real criticism is the lack of blood in the fight scenes which suggests to me that the battles have been toned down in order to secure a lower rating, and hence attract a wider audience. As I said, it’s not really my kind of film but it’s perfectly watchable and it keeps me awake which is the most important thing.
After the screening there’s the traditional Q&A with the director, producer and star but I really need the extra sleep so I slip out during the credits and head home to recuperate ready for a five film day tomorrow. Goodnight!
For further information on TIFF 09 visit the festival website: www.tiff.net/.
Micmacs will screen at the BFI 53rd London Film Festival in October and is released in UK cinemas on 8th January 2010.
Up In The Air will screen at the BFI 53rd London Film Festival in October and is released in UK cinemas on 15th January 2010.