If you’re wondering, no you did not miss my day one post. The Toronto International Film Festival started yesterday evening, but instead of going to movies, we saw the Blue Jays crush the Twins 8-0. So day 2 is my first day of TIFF. Follow along after the cut for musings on Passchendaele, RocknRolla, and JCVD. One note: these won’t be full-on reviews with my typical 5 star scale, as I’ll be seeing too many in too varied a frame of mind (i.e., outside factors like fatigue could come into play more significantly than they normally would). Instead, I’ll share my impressions with a pass/fail/adequate type verdict at the end.
Director: Paul Gross
Starring: Paul Gross, Caroline Dhavernas, Joe Dinicol, Meredith Bailey, Jim Mezon, Gil Bellows
Passchendaele is the most expensive Canadian film production ever made, detailing Canadian involvement in World War I (more specifically, the Third Battle of Ypres). For those of you who don’t know (i.e., American readers… or typical Canadians who pay little attention to their own history), the First World War was a big deal for our country, serving as a coming out party for the tiny little piece of the British Crown (to give you an idea, we didn’t even have our own flag yet). Despite its vaunted place in our history, there were no big movies about our involvement in WWI, just as there are no big movies about our involvement WWII, simply because we don’t have the money to make big movies about our history. Director and star Paul Gross decided to change that, setting out to make the great Canadian epic for about $40 million (CAD), or roughly what it costs to make a star-driven rom com in Hollywood.
You have to applaud his ambition, and as a BA holder in Canadian history I have to same I’m proud that one of our stories was made for wide distribution. Being a lower budget Canadian film, you have to be prepared to forgive a bit from the production that you wouldn’t from an American production, as the effects won’t be as good, or the cinematography as crisp, and I will admit that there are times when the whole thing felt made-for-the-CBCish. But interestingly, the parts where you’d expect the film to slip due to budget are handled fairly well. Instead, it’s the areas that don’t require as much money, like the writing and direction, where Passchendaele fails to impress.
Maybe the intentions were too noble, or maybe Gross overstepped his ability, but much of the film is filled with the sort of corny cliches most war films have either left behind, or at least learned to disguise better. When the film isn’t dealing with trench warfare, it’s filled with stock characters and dime store romance novel subplots that are hard not to roll your eyes at, no matter how much you want the film to succeed. So while I admire Gross for having the gumption to take such a big gamble, and I hope it proves profitable enough that more Canadian stories get told, the best I can say is that Passchendaele is a decent enough first attempt at large-scale Canadian history filmmaking, now here’s hoping someone more talented picks up the baton for the next leg.
Verdict: Adequate – Worth viewing for Canadians interested in seeing how our history was handled and/or what a big scale Canadian production looks like, but make sure your expectations are low, and make no special effort to see it.
Director: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Thandie Newton, Idris Elba, Toby Kebbell, Tom Hardy, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Jeremy Piven
The big question surrounding Guy Ritchie‘s RocknRolla is whether or not it’s an improvement over his recent output of Swept Away or Revolver. I’m inclined to say it is, although I suppose I can’t say for sure given that I have no intention of ever watching either one. Instead, I’ll say that it’s enjoyable for most of the reasons Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels are enjoyable, while sharing the same flaws as them. But if you liked Ritchie’s gritty gangster tales of London, you’ll like this one too, as it shares the same heightened energy and sexy violence. Maybe it makes Ritchie and one trick pony, but there’s still fun left in that trick.
Verdict: Positive – I enjoyed this one. It could use some tightening up (but I don’t see that happening given that it’s being released in the UK today), but it’s still a fun ride as is. As a festival note: Ritchie showed up for our morning screening of the film to say a quick hello and introduce the film, which was a nice touch given that the gala premiere was last night.
Director: Mabrouk El Mechri
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, François Damiens, Zinedine Soualem, Karim Belkhadra
The trailer for JCVD makes it look a little more slick and little more funny than it ended up being, but the film was still an impressive success. There’s still some great laughs to be had, as well as some impressive action, but what the trailer only hints at is the dramatic weight of the film, which it handles rather deftly. Read that again. A Jean-Claude Van Damme film deftly handles dramatic weight… and JCVD is the guy doing the heavy lifting. This may very well be the most transformative performance you’ll ever seen from any performer in terms of your impression of them before you see their performance to your impressions after you see it (moreso than, say, Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love or Bill Murray in Lost in Translation). Of course, this is no typical Van Damme film, and those going in expecting one will probably be disappointed. Director Mabrouk El Mechri and producer Van Damme had more ambitious ideas in mind, instead delivering an offbeat, indie production infused with with the heart of foreign cinema (the film is largely in French). Their gamble succeeds fantastically, leaving me unexpectedly intrigued about where Van Damme will go from here (while fearing what copycat efforts may be in store from Steven Seagal or Chuck Norris).
Verdict: Success – My favourite film of the day. El Mechri was also at this screening (even though it debuted at Midnight on Thursday), sticking around afterwards to do a brief Q&A session. He cut about 45 minutes from the original cut, including some scenes that had already made it to the trailer.
Those were the three films we actually got into today. Following JCVD, we had dinner then headed over to the site of the Gala Premiere for Burn After Reading to get into the rush line. We waited about four hours (we were there before The Secret Life of Bees even started, allowing my wife to get a glimpse of the stars of that movie, including Queen Latifah and Dakota Fanning — not that she was all that interested), but never got in. Which kinda sucks, although to be truthful, after four hours of waiting, I had greater concerns than seeing a movie (or Brad Pitt). Also, it makes me feel completely secure about having paid the extra $150 for Out of Town ticket ordering. No more rush lines for the rest of the festival for us.
Tomorrow: Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen (part one), Canadian claymation, and Michael Cera.