Thursday, September 16, 2010

Toronto International Film Festival News

Now, I personally didn't attend the Toronto International Film Festival (running until the 19th of this month), but some films of great interest to Weird Movie Village are screening there that are receiving early critical praise and are worthy of previewing.

Let Me In, the highly anticipated (or dreaded) English-language remake of the Swedish masterwork Let the Right One In, premiered last Monday at the Toronto International Film Festival, and the good news is that writer/director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) has not desecrated the original. As a matter of fact, a lot of critics are reporting that he's made an adaptation with enough invigorating twists to elevate it above mere "remake" status. That's all good news.

For those who don't know, it's the story of a lonely, bullied boy who befriends the mysterious girl who moves in next door and gradually comes to the realization that she's not a child at all but a vampire of undetermined age.

The action is moved from Scandinavia to Los Alamos, New Mexico, but it's still a period piece, set in the 1980s. Richard Jenkins plays the vampire girl's caretaker and Elias Koteas is a new character, a cop trying to track down the source of the mysterious murders occurring in his town. In a big departure from the original, these are the only prominent adult roles. All the others are ciphers. The young leads are the focal point in Let Me In, so it's vital that their performances merit such attention.

The critics agree that Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) and Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass), now named Owen and Abby, are perfectly cast. That's more good news. And the filmmakers didn't wimp out and shoot for a PG-13 rating; it's a full-blooded R. Even though this is a film about children, it's not a children's film. Anna's attacks are appropriately vicious as they were in the original, and the situations are far more adult than your typical Twilight scenario.

I'll certainly be in line when it's released on October 1st, and I hope it's a hit for co-producer Hammer Films, the granddaddy of the vampire genre.

Another one I'm looking forward to is the Guillermo Del Toro-produced Julia's Eyes, from the team that made the impressive The Orphanage in 2007. There's no U.S. distributor yet, but Salon's Andrew O'Hehir thinks it's only a matter of time. Like The Orphanage, this film is set in gloomy Northern Spain, and Belén Rueda once again is the female lead.

She plays Julia, a woman suffering from a degenerative eye disease that had caused her sister to go blind. And when said sister hangs herself in the basement of her gothically creepy house, Julia suspects murder and conducts her own investigation, fighting her failing eyesight and the encroachment of evil. It sounds like this film is dripping with atmosphere, and if it pulls off the brooding darkness of The Orphanage, it ought to be pretty gripping.

Trainspotting director Danny Boyle screened his latest, 127 Hours, and audience reaction was strong—one viewer even required medical attention! It's based on the true story of a mountaineer who managed to free himself after being trapped by a boulder in a Utah canyon for five days by severing his own arm.

James Franco plays the mountaineer, Aron Ralston, and his performance is being acclaimed as one to watch when the Academy Award nominations roll around. I really love these kinds of intense character studies, and Boyle is the right director to pull this off. And it's only 90 minutes long, so it doesn't seem like it will outstay its welcome.

Director Stuart Gordon pulled off a similar feat—though in a much more macabre vein—with 2007's Stuck, also based on a true story, about a retirement home nurse (Mena Suvari) who drunkenly runs into a homeless man (Stephen Rea) and leaves him trapped in her car's windshield in her garage while she tries to decide whether to kill him, free him or ignore him altogether. And there are scenes of Rea trying to pull his battered body out of the glass that are absolutely agonizing.

Evidently the buildup to 127 Hours' self-amputation scene is so excruciating and the sequence rendered so realistically that the audience freaked out. And since you can't spend 90 minutes showing someone crying for help with their arm stuck under a boulder (unless you're Andy Warhol), other story elements must be added. In this case, Ralston reflects on his life—invoking multiple flashbacks, I'm sure—and I hope they're compelling. I think they will be. We'll know on November 5th. Oh, and there's a masturbation scene that's causing some buzz in the community...

After making the magnificent but more-or-less straight The Wrestler, eclectic filmmaker Darren Aranofsky (Requiem for a Dream) seems to be returning to his surreal roots for Black Swan, which was well-received at TIFF. The film stars Natalie Portman as a repressed ballerina who is offered the lead in a production of "Swan Lake," and the psychological toll she must pay.

Word is there's nothing black and white about the film. Aranofsky mixes genres audaciously, with lots of "Is it really happening?"-style sequences. When this material is handled well, it can be riveting, and Aranofsky has already proven to be an expert at it.

I happen to be a fan of his 2006 The Fountain, a film that many dismissed as New Age claptrap, but I found fascinating with its disconcerting shifts of time and place and bizarre visuals. It's a mystery you can't wait to solve. Swan seems to be traveling in a similar orbit, although costar Vincent Cassell, upon seeing it for the first time in Venice, said "It's a Polanski movie, and then it becomes a Dario Argento movie. And maybe a little bit of David Cronenberg too." Sounds like fun to me.

Black Swan will be released in selected cities on December 1st.

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